INDIANAPOLIS — On its way to the NCAA Division III Final Four, the Augustana men’s basketball team mixed game preparation with a history lesson Wednesday.
The Vikings practiced at Butler University’s historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, stepping back in time at a facility that not only had its Hollywood moment as the backdrop for the state championship game in the movie “Hoosiers’’ but hosted the real thing among countless events that have been held there since its doors first opened in 1928.
“It’s one of the jewels of our game,’’ Augustana coach Grey Giovanine said after putting his team through a 90-minute practice in preparation for Friday’s national semifinal game against Williams in Salem, Virginia.
“These guys, they know ‘Hoosiers,’ but there is so much more to this place than that, and we appreciate Butler giving us a chance to share it with our team.’’
Before the Vikings began their practice, they gathered around Giovanine at midcourt.
He told them about the four U.S. presidents who have spoken at Hinkle, beginning with Herbert Hoover.
Giovanine told them about the legendary “Milan miracle,’’ how a tiny Indiana high school took the court at Hinkle for the Indiana state high school championship game in 1954 and stunned Muncie Central.
Before the Vikings ran their first drill, they heard about Oscar Robertson playing at Hinkle and how he and his teammates from Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis became the first team with an all-African-American roster to win an Indiana state championship and put together an undefeated season.
“There is so much history inside these walls. I want these guys to appreciate that and get a feel for it,’’ said Giovanine, who previously coached games at Hinkle while working as an assistant at Oral Roberts.
Augustana also practiced at Hinkle prior to its appearance in the 2015 Final Four, but with only four players on the current roster also part of that team, Wednesday’s experience was a first for many Vikings.
“It’s a pretty cool place, the history of it and all,’’ said guard Chrishawn Orange, a sophomore from Algonquin, Illinois. “To get a chance to be out on that court, playing in the same building that Oscar Robertson once played in, it’s pretty awesome."
Senior Jacob Johnston was a member of Augustana’s last Final Four team, but the forward who prepped at Erie said the return visit was every bit as special as the first.
“It’s such a historic place and getting a chance to do something a lot of players don’t get to do, it only adds to the whole experience," Johnston said. “It was a memorable part of our trip two years ago, and this is something I’ll remember again. Memories like this, they make the trip so special."
Once the practice ended, the Vikings posed for a team photo on the center of the court.
Many players snapped photos on their phones and others looked at exhibit cases in a concourse that chronicle the significance of the facility, the largest of its kind in the nation when it opened with a basketball game between Butler and Notre Dame on March 7, 1928.
The Vikings won’t be the only college team working out there this week. With the opening rounds of the NCAA Division I tourney scheduled to played in downtown Indianapolis later this week, other college teams have scheduled practice time there as well.
Augustana’s workout came in the middle of a 13-hour bus trip to the Division III tourney, beginning with a sendoff from the Rock Island campus on Wednesday morning.
That was the start of a number of Final Four week activities in and around the Augustana campus to celebrate the school’s seventh berth in the Final Four.
Friday has been designated Blue and Gold Day with faculty, staff, administrators, students and fans encouraged to wear the school’s colors.
A “watch party’’ will give fans a chance to view the Vikings’ 6:30 p.m. game against Williams at the Carver Center, where doors will open at 6 p.m. The event is open to the public.
The Augustana advancement and alumni office will host a pregame reception for fans who travel to Salem, Virginia, for the Final Four. It is scheduled to run from 6-7:30 p.m. EDT in Salon A of the Salem Civic Center.
If the Vikings advance to Saturday’s 5 p.m. national championship game, a watch party is planned for River House Bar and Grill in Moline.