Big Ten Biography: Dan Dakich
Nearly three decades after Michael Jordan’s college career ended with a bitter defeat at the hands of the Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet 16 of the 1984 NCAA tournament, everyone in the Hoosier state still reminds Dan Dakich about how he managed to shut down arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time.
“I get reminded of it everyday. It’s great.” Dakich said happily. “If you’re going to be remembered for something you might as well be remembered for that.”
Although Dakich is mainly remembered for his defensive effort against Jordan, the Gary, Ind. native has been a part of much bigger things during his four seasons as a player and 13 years as an assistant coach at Indiana.
Programs such as Michigan State, Purdue and Florida attempted to lure Dakich to play for them, but coming out of Andrean High School in 1981 he knew the Hoosiers were the only team in the running for his services.
Indiana had won national championships in 1976 and 1981. Head coach Bobby Knight was still in the prime of his coaching career. The first game Dakich ever went to was when the Hoosiers took on the Ohio State Buckeyes for the Big Ten Conference title in 1980.
For Dakich, there was nothing else he needed to be sold on.
“When you’re from Indiana, at that time if Coach Knight asked you go…I knew I was going to Indiana and I didn’t really want to waste a whole lot of time with people,” Dakich said. “Once Coach Knight offered, it was done and I was going (to Indiana).”
The aforementioned tilt between the Hoosiers and Buckeyes gave Dakich more than one story to tell. In addition to watching his future team win a Big Ten title, Dakich met Coach Knight for the first time in the locker room after the game concluded.
“He hit me in the side of the head…and he said, ‘Are you going to come here and play for me, or not?’” Dakich recalled. “I looked at him and he was offering me a scholarship, and he said yes. I said, ‘Okay well then I’m playing for you.’ It was great.”
Dakich got on the floor immediately at Indiana and although the Hoosiers only managed to compile a 19-10 record they finished tied for second in the Big Ten. Indiana’s season came to a close in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The following year, the Hoosiers were in the hunt for a Big Ten title once again, but Indiana needed to top Ohio State, Purdue and Illinois at Assembly Hall without All-American Ted Kitchell to finish the regular season as outright champions.
Coach Knight challenged the fans to help the Hoosiers bring a league title to Bloomington and different players stepped up to lead Indiana to three straight victories.
“It was what Indiana basketball at that time was about,” Dakich said. “In our view, it didn’t matter who was playing. You had Indiana on your chest and you were expected to win. That’s the environment we played in, and it was the environment we call went there for.”
Since the fans showed the support Coach Knight demanded from them during the closing stretch of the 1982-83 season, the legendary head coach decided to hang the Big Ten title banner from the rafters of Assembly Hall, which at the time was reserved for national championships.
“I thought coach did a great thing. He told the students and fans, look this is because of how you responded to adversity, so we’re going to put this up as a representative of all the Big Ten titles.”
The following season, Dakich was named a team captain and prepared to shoulder more responsibilities as one of Indiana’s upperclassmen.
The Hoosiers racked up 22 wins and only dropped nine games heading into the 1984 NCAA tournament, but Indiana entered its Sweet 16 tilt with the top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels as a significant underdog in the eyes of college basketball fans.
“We’d seen articles that said they were supposed to be the best team in the history of college basketball…but we were at Indiana and we were supposed to win.”
Despite only starting six games that season, Coach Knight told Dakich he would not be coming off of the bench against North Carolina. Coach Knight also let Dakich know his assignment would be to guard Jordan, who was averaging 19 points per game.
The difficult matchup could not have come at a worse time for Dakich, though.
“I was sick as a dog the entire week, but I only started six games, so if I let anybody know I might not get to play,” Dakich said. “I ended up not telling anybody, but after pre-game meal I was sick, and I opened up the door to my hotel room and just threw up all over the carpet.
“It was a curved room, and I didn’t want my roommate to see it, so I cleaned it up and didn’t tell anybody until after the game.”
Dakich fought through his illness and forced Jordan to foul out of the game after only managing to score 13 points. Indiana advanced to the Elite Eight with a 72-68 victory over the Tar Heels.
Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they were unable to top the Virginia Cavaliers in the East regional finals. To this day Dakich still remembers the disappointment of committing a crucial turnover at the end of that game more than his performance against Jordan.
Dakich’s career at Indiana did not end on a high note either. The Hoosiers went 19-14 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.
“It was miserable. It was completely miserable and it was unnecessary,” Dakich said. “I probably did a bad job as a leader…We had guys get suspended, guys get kicked off…That was a major disappointment. In my basketball life that was the biggest disappointment.”
With his college career in the books, Dakich did not want to go out and find a real job, and he set his sights on coaching. Dakich stayed at Indiana and worked under Coach Knight as a graduate assistant in 1985 and stayed on as an assistant coach until 1997.
During that time, the Hoosiers won a national title, four Big Ten titles and recorded nine 20-win seasons.
Dakich eventually went on to become a head coach at Bowling Green State from 1997-2007 where he amassed a 156-140 record and won the 2000 Mid-American Conference championship.
After his time at Bowling Green State, Dakich returned to Indiana in 2007 as Director of Basketball Operations and was named an assistant coach on head coach Kelvin Sampson’s staff.
When Sampson was fired for committing numerous NCAA violations, the Hoosiers promoted Dakich to interim head coach. Indiana went 3-4 under Dakich and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Today, Dakich is a broadcaster for ESPN and has his own radio show, which has been a rewarding experience.
“I’ve never enjoyed anything more than what I’m enjoying right now…It’s allowed me to stay close to the game and make so many new friendships,” Dakich said. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had and I hope I can continue on for a long time.”