For the scene where Dennis Hopper walks onto the court drunk in the middle of the game, Hopper wanted a ten-second notice before calling action. At the ten-second notice, he spun around in circles until action was called, allowing him to stagger onto the court in an awkward fashion in order to appear drunk.
The scene with Jimmy and Coach Dale talking while Jimmy shot baskets was filmed in one take. Maris Valainis said that he "wasn't even listening to him." "I was just concentrating on making them and I made one and they kept going in."
Steve Hollar, who played Rade Butcher, was actually playing basketball for DePauw University at the time. This caught the attention of the NCAA when the film was released. The NCAA eventually decided that Hollar had been hired as an actor, not a basketball player. He still was given a three-game suspension and told to return 5% of his pay.
An actual Milan Indian Guard, Ray Craft, was in the movie. Craft was the person that greeted the Huskers when they got to the state finals, and he also was the one that told Coach Dale that it was time to take the court before the state final.
The actual game was played between the Milan Indians and the Muncie Central Bearcats. For the movie, the South Bend Central Bears were the opponent. The true championship took place in 1954, not 1952 as in the movie, and the score was Milan 32, Muncie Central 30.
Jack Nicholson wanted to play Coach Norman Dale but had a schedule conflict. He told the producers he knew they were on a tight schedule to shoot, and if they found another actor, to go ahead. If not, he could do it the next year. Gene Hackman then signed on for the part. (from the DVD bonus features)
The actor playing Ollie once left the set to watch his high school basketball team play. He was a junior on the team when he got the role and was feeling homesick, so he decided to go watch them. The crew had to contact his mother to get him to return.
While delighted with his Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he had previously been nominated for writing _Easy Rider_), Dennis Hopper privately admitted to friends and colleagues that he felt the Academy nominated him for the wrong film. He thought he should have been tipped for his performance as Frank Booth in David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986) instead.
The filmmakers had trouble filling the FieldHouse with extras for the final game, and needed to move people around when shooting different angles. Extras were given 1950's hairstyles and their clothing was checked for anachronisms.
Dennis Hopper appeared in two films , Rebel Without A Cause and Giant with actor James Dean, a native Hoosier who played on the Fairmount Indiana high school basketball team in the late 1940's. In order to appear drunk in a scene Hopper spun around in circles before a take, the same tecnique he used for the film Giant as well as Hoosiers.
Jerry Goldsmith's score is well known for its "Americana" essence, but the music itself was ironically performed by the Hungarian State Opera orchestra in Budapest. American orchestral unions were reportedly upset with Goldsmith for choosing a foreign orchestra to use for a lower budget film. This is understandable due to the Hungarian orchestra's occasional performance flubs heard throughout the score. Nonetheless, Goldsmith used this orchestra (as well as the Hungarian State symphony orchestra) on most of his other late 80s scores.
Kent Poole (Merle) earned the nickname "Hollywood" back home in Indiana after Hoosiers made it big. Poole was a real life Hoosier, a small-town Indiana high school basketball star. In 1982, Poole helped his small school team (Western Boone High) to a "near miss" in the Indiana State Finals. Unlike Hickory, Poole's team lost their playoff game by one basket. The director knew Poole loved small school spirit, and felt he could deliver the movie's famous line with true heartfelt emotion and even deeper meaning: "Let's win this one for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here."