By Steve Ginsburg
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Bobby Plump, whose last-second, game-winning shot was immortalized in the popular 1986 basketball film Hoosiers and gave hope to a generation of underdogs, believes Butler has what it takes to win the NCAA Tournament.
Butler, an Indianapolis school of 4,500, will play 2009 runners-up Michigan State on Saturday in the semi-finals of the NCAA Tournament. While the Bulldogs are new to the Final Four, Michigan State have been there six of the last 12 years.
Plump, now 73, knows the feeling of going up against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Portrayed as Jimmy Chitwood in the film, his jumper in the 1954 Indiana state high school basketball championship lifted tiny Milan to a 32-30 triumph over powerhouse Muncie Central.
"And I can tell you how they feel because that's what they thought about us. We were underdogs. But we never felt it. And I guarantee you the Butler players don't feel that either."
"They can win the tournament. I really think they can."
"Many people have asked me if there is a comparison between Butler and Milan," said Plump. "No, there's not really a comparison. They play on a national stage while we were a bunch of naive kids that didn't know what we were doing.
"But while we weren't cocky, weren't overconfident, we wanted the other teams to prove to us that they can beat us. I'm sure that's the feeling that the Butler players have."
When he recreates the setting, his eyes widen. He recalls every detail, from the coach's instructions during the time-out to Muncie's defense in the waning seconds.
He travels back 56 years to Butler Fieldhouse like it was last week.
"I just stood with the ball until there were five or six seconds," he said. "I faked left. The defender just leaned a little bit. I have to think in the huddle they told him, 'Don't let him get around you.'
"He had to be five, six feet off of me. I stopped at the edge of three throw line and shot a jumper. I knew it was going in when it left my hands."
With the Final Four being played about 10 miles from his restaurant, Plump said he has given at least 35 interviews over the last three days.
"They did a survey and estimated that 90 percent of the adult population of Indiana watched or listened to that game," he said. "There were 15,000 people there and they were scalping the $3.50 tickets for $50. It was big. Real big.
"The state police estimated there were between 30,000 and 40,000 people greeting us when we got back home to Milan (about 80 miles from Indianapolis) and they came from five states."
Plump, who spurned a chance to play for the then-low paying NBA to work for Phillips 66, is often asked how his life would have changed had he missed that shot.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)