Q & A with Hall of Fame News-Sentinel sportswriter Pete DiPrimio
Longtime IU hoops beat writer to be inducted Sunday
By Reggie Hayes
Saturday, April 09, 2016 - 12:01 AM
Pete DiPrimio doesn’t have a room big enough to display for all the sports writing awards he’s received in 100 years in the business.close window
OK, “100 years” qualifies as a DiPrimio-style humorous exaggeration, but there's no need to embellish DiPrimio’s huge haul of awards. As a writer/columnist for the News-Sentinel the last 16 years – after stints with the Evansville Press, Evansville Courier and New Castle Courier-Times – a DiPrimio byline has become synonymous with excellence.
With 40-plus writing awards in three-plus decades of outstanding journalism, DiPrimio will be inducted into the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame at a ceremony Sunday at the Valle Vista Golf Club in Greenwood.
DiPrimio’s primary focus with The News-Sentinel has been college sports, and he’s the go-to writer for anything related to Indiana University basketball. He has written a number of sports books and children’s books and has been an adjunct lecturer at IU and IUPUI.
DiPrimio, a Snider High School alum, shared some thoughts on his career in a question-and-answer session:
Q: What do you find rewarding about being a sportswriter in 2016, and is that different from when you started?
A: The reward comes in meeting interesting people and getting to write their stories, or least part of their stories. That’s been true since I broke my first story – Adam and Eve’s Garden of Eden shocker that cost them paradise and ultimately led to Justin Bieber.
It’s different in that, when I first started covering IU for the Evansville Courier, I was 29 and was the youngest person covering the program. Now, all these years later, I am still 29 – never doubt the power of eating Cap'n Crunch cereal – but am now the oldest person covering the Hoosiers.
At least some of this is almost totally true.
Q: You have covered a number of Indiana University basketball teams throughout your career. What are your two or three fondest memories?
A: The quasi-magical run to the 2002 national title game. Under coach Mike Davis, IU reached the Sweet Sixteen against top-seeded Duke, fell behind by 17, then rallied for an improbable win. There was Dane Fife’s silly foul on a Blue Devil three-pointer at the end that could have turned epic victory into epic defeat. The Hoosiers won, then won again, then won again, beating Oklahoma and coach Kelvin Sampson – yes, Kelvin Sampson – before losing to Maryland in the championship game.
Also when IU reached the 1992 Final Four after blowing the Big Ten title by losing at mediocre Purdue in the regular-season finale. The Hoosiers went from a No. 1 seed to a No. 2 seed and were sent to Boise. In response, coach Bob Knight canceled the team banquet, then went on a bizarre and entertaining run of press conferences that included talking about player torture, something called cerebral reversal and anything that got him out of talking basketball.
IU lost to Duke in the Final Four semifinals in a game memorable for official Ted Valentine calls against the Hoosiers and guard Todd Leary’s late off-the-bench three-point-shooting surge that nearly sent the game into overtime.
Q: Who do you consider the best IU basketball player you have covered? Who was the most interesting?
A: Calbert Cheaney was the best player and an all-around great guy. He still is. He remains the Big Ten career scoring leader with 2,613 points, and given the way so many great players leave early for the NBA draft, he might stay that way till the end of time, or when Justin Bieber runs for president.
The most interesting player would be … Dane Fife, the former IPFW head coach and now a Michigan State assistant. He was always colorful, always honest, always surprising. You never knew what he would do, or why. Heck, he even bit an Iowa player once because, well, who knows?
Q: Which IU basketball coach has been more challenging to cover, Bob Knight or Tom Crean, and why?
A: Bob Knight, by far. There was always an element of danger that didn’t exist anywhere else. He was like a black hole distorting all known rules of journalism, public relations and professional courtesy.
One time Knight decided the media were harassing his players after games. It would have been nice if at least one player would have been made available after a game to talk, but that rarely happened. So we would wait outside the locker room. When players came out, we’d ask if they wanted to talk, politely. Knight felt we were following them to their cars, to their apartments, to wherever.
In his infinite wisdom, the next game Knight brought out guards and gates to keep us away. The guards wore red jackets. The gates consisted of black iron bars. It reminded me of the old Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain, so I wrote a story that described that in great detail.
The next day, the basketball sports information director told me Knight had told him he was to keep an eye on me.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“I just have to keep an eye on you,” he replied.
The next game, a 137-year-old man was in my media seat. When I politely told him he was in my seat, he unleashed enough F-bombs to sink a battleship. I found out he was a Knight friend, and his being there was no accident. I wound up in a better seat, so it had a happy ending.
Q: Has the passion of IU basketball fans changed since the Knight era?
A: The passion has remained the same, but the national title winning ways have stopped. That’s been a big problem for Hoosier Nation. So fans grumble about coach Tom Crean. That has slowed dramatically since the Hoosiers won the outright Big Ten title and reached the Sweet 16 by beating Kentucky this season.
So all is good – until the next loss, of course.
Q: Do you think IU will win an NCAA title in the next five years? Ten years?
A: The resources, coaching and passion are in place for that to happen. It would really help to have players good enough to win with, but not so good that they are lottery picks and leave early. North Carolina and Villanova both benefited from their veteran experience as well as their talent.
Q: Other than basketball, who are some of the athletes or coaches you have enjoyed covering, and why?
A: Former Purdue football coach Joe Tiller was great to work with. Not only was he a very good coach, but he was funny and entertaining and extremely accommodating. Evansville Mater Dei High School wrestling coach Mike Goebel was also great to work with. Given all the state titles he won in wrestling, and that he continues to win in football, he just might be the best overall high school coach in Indiana history.
Q: Has there been a time when an interview subject surprised you? If so, how?
A: World famous jockey Bill Shoemaker. I interviewed him at Churchill Downs and he was unbelievably nice, especially given I was unbelievably clueless about horse racing.
Q: What have been the best changes in newspapers since your career began? What have been the worst?
A: Using computers and the Internet to write and file stories. It saves an enormous amount of time, and allows you to work virtually anywhere on Earth. When I first started, we wrote on papyrus and sent stories via carrier pigeons. Or were they owls? It was so hard to tell the difference.
The worst change is the uncertainty in the profession – and all those annoying videos that take so long to make and generate so little viewership.
Q: You have written a number of children’s books? What do you find enjoyable about that?
A: I get to write outside the newspaper/sports arena, often using fiction techniques in a non-fiction setting. Although many of the books are sports-related, several have been historical (Ancient Sparta, the Roman Emperor Nero, the Sioux Indians). All have been enlightening.
Q: You are a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Who’s your favorite Steeler and why?
A: Running back Franco Harris, the key participant in the Immaculate Reception. I can say, with total objectivity, it is the greatest play in the history of sports, in this universe, and in all the others!
Q: What bit of advice would you offer an aspiring sports journalist today?
A: Be as diversified in your skills as possible, work hard, be resilient when facing adversity (because you will), be able to laugh at yourself, and always, always be able to quote a Rocky speech at a moment’s notice.