Longtime Hoosier Brad Long
Center Grove Grad Brad Long Talks About His Hoosier Fame
Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
After a brief time out to talk strategy, Jimmy Chitwood and the rest of the Hickory Huskers basketball players return to the court to play out the final seconds of the state championship game against South Bend Central. Chitwood sneaks past the guard to advance for his final shot. He jumps, he scores, and Hickory wins 42-40 over South Bend.
The final scene in the movie “Hoosiers” still makes my pulse race 30 years after I first saw it. Countless real-life Hoosiers are reliving the glory, too, at various parties around the state celebrating the movie’s release, 30 years ago.
I caught up with Brad Long, who played Buddy Walker, to relive some of the hoops action.
Not surprisingly, Long has remained in Indiana, not far from where he grew up. A fellow Center Grove High School alumnus, Long grew up in the Center Grove area and played basketball for the Trojans.
“It was an honor to play for the team. I miss the old gym. It was such a fun place to play,” Long recalled.
Long left Center Grove and headed west to another basketball-loving state, Kansas, to play for the Moundbuilders of Southwestern College. He said the smaller college experience gave him plenty of court time and some unforgettable games.
“The coach let us play Division One schools,” he said. “We played schools including Oklahoma, Texas, and BYU in what they called ham and egg games, and learned so much. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.”
After college, Long returned to the basketball mecca that is the Hoosier state, and that’s where our discussion returned. As we continued rehashing memories of our alma mater, Long and I recall how the Trojans took their hoops very seriously and often progressed far in the tourney. But then again, the entire Hoosier state took hoops very seriously.
Long said, “The movie came along during the perfect era. In the ‘80s, fans packed arenas for high school games, college and pro games.”
Indiana basketball fans were uniquely loyal to the sport, largely thanks to a single-class basketball system in which any school, no matter how big or small, had a chance to win the state championship.
Long confessed, “My heart wishes Indiana would go back to that single-class system. Seeing old gyms packed like the ones in the movie really makes you miss it.”
To add to the enthusiasm, the popularity of Bobby Knight’s Hoosiers was at an all-time high with stars like Landon Turner, Ted Kitchell, Uwe Blab, and, of course, Steve Alford. The team had such a following that many folks couldn’t wait to tune in to Channel 4 for the IU game, kicked off by Rosemary Clooney and her rendition of the Indiana Fight Song. Even my mom watched it with us, claiming she was an obligatory fan, only because she was paying the school tuition.
“Hoosiers” writer Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh found that Indiana provided the perfect fan base and ideal film location. But getting the project off the ground was no slam-dunk. Starting with just a $6 million budget, they had to think creatively to make it happen. The filmmakers put out a callout asking for basketball players high school age up to 24 to audition for the movie. Long says he didn’t notice the callout, but his friends saw and urged him to try out.
“I told them I wasn’t going to do it. I was 23 at the time, just graduated from college, started my first job, and I was engaged to be married.”
But his friends persisted, and he tried out. He didn’t read for a specific part, but was delighted to be offered the part of Buddy Walker.
The casting process was unique, Long recalled.
“Usually in a film like this, they pick actors who they hope might be able to play a little basketball,” he said. “This time, they wanted players with some skills and hoped they could teach them to act.”
It’s a strategy that worked out, Long said, “Because the game scenes were not staged. We were actually playing ball.”
As for learning acting skills, Long said he learned a little secret from leading actor Gene Hackman.
“He was great. He taught me that the art of acting is not to act; it’s to just be yourself.”
The busy filming schedule had Long jumping between locations in Knightstown, New Richmond, Nineveh, St. Philip Neri School, and, of course, Hinkle Fieldhouse. Unfortunately, the busy filming schedule required long and his fiancée to move their wedding date from November to December 1985. This gave Long a much different experience than most 23-year-olds, fresh out of college.
“You just get through it, and do what you have to do.”
Thirty years later, Long is still reliving the glory as he makes his rounds doing motivational speaking.
“I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to share my experience with others,” he said. “I’m truly humbled by the success the movie has attained. I give all the credit to the writer and director for making such an inspiring film.”
But inspiring a new era and new generation isn’t easy. Especially today, when teens spend so much time on digital technology, play numerous sports, and their attention is drawn elsewhere.
“Basketball used to be a big deal. Now it’s not as revered. It takes the crowd out of it when there are so many other things to do,” Long explained.
But the magic of “Hoosiers” will continue to endure for years to come, and Long said there’s one special element in the film that made it happen.
“Redemption. It’s a theme that’s entwined throughout the movie,” he explained. “It’s not just about winning the game at the end. It’s about the team’s redemption, Shooter Flatch’s redemption, and the coach’s redemption. Anyone can identify with that no matter what the era.”
Long has his own message to audiences when he speaks.
“Find your passion in life and pursue it. If you do, you’ll go far.”