Central Indiana Is Hoops Heaven for Another Two Months

by Kent Sterling

In Indiana, people nail hoops to just about anything, and it always looks just right.

In Indiana, people nail hoops to just about anything, and it always looks just right.

January is a long month.  It’s cold, dark comes too early, and life slows uncomfortably.  If not for the steady diet of outstanding basketball relentlessly available, I would hibernate from the day after Christmas through Presidents Day, and again until St. Patrick’s Day if my mood was gloomy.

Tuesday night, I was in Assembly Hall watching the Hoosiers beat Wisconsin – the #3 team in America.  Last night, I watched Cathedral beat the #1 team in Indiana while scoring 27 or their 45 points from the foul line.  Tonight, I’m in Bankers Life Fieldhouse waiting to see the team with the best record in the NBA take on the New York Knicks.

Is this heaven?  No, it’s Indiana.

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Did I mention that Purdue beat Illinois at the other Assembly Hall last night,  that Indiana State is pretty damn good, and Butler is trying to find its way to success to the reconstituted Big East.

Oh, and the Big Ten Tournament will be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in two months, an NCAA Midwest Regional will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium two weeks later, and there is a good chance that the Pacers will find a path way through the Eastern Conference side of the bracket to play in the NBA Finals for the second time in their nearly 40-year (NBA) history.

The Hoosiers and Boilers look like they might have something to say about the Big Ten race after all after both started the conference season 0-2.  The Marion County Tournament is also in full swing.

If you love basketball like most Hoosiers, you can find something interesting to do every night through mid-March.

There will be a small respite between the Final Four and the NBA Playoffs, but then Pacers fans hope for a thrilling two-month run to a championship.

In America, there are cities and areas associated with different sports.  Minnesota is a great place to watch all levels of hockey.  St. Louis is a baseball mecca from youth leagues to the Cardinals.  Western Pennsylvania is all about football.  But for basketball, there is nothing like Indiana.

No area matches its passion for the game, or the ability to impart wisdom from generation to generation.  On a night after what in Indy is a significant snow, the Fieldhouse will be sold out to watch a game between the Pacers and the woebegone Knicks.  Tuesday night, Assembly Hall was packed, and last night, there weren’t many seats at Cathedral either.

When I first moved to Indiana as a soon-to-be high school student, I thought the people were insane.  The first teacher who spoke to me asked whether I thought Jeffersonville could survive the graduation of its best player.  I had no idea what the hell he was talking about.

Where I came from, kids played tennis, baseball, and soccer – in that order.  I’m not kidding.  I was named to the travel all-star team because the best players from my team chose to play travel tennis instead of baseball.  The seventh grade team my son played a few years ago would have beaten the team I played for by 200+ points, and we weren’t bad for north suburban Chicago kids.

If you live in Indiana, or ever plan to, you better be able to habla some hoops.  If you don’t know that the way to beat a 2-3 zone is through ball reversal and feeding the middle, you need to buy a book and study up, because as welcoming as Hoosiers can be, they know basketball.  And if you don’t, brows will be furrowed in your direction.

In Indiana, January means a nightly diet of basketball, and that’s enough to keep me going.  “In 49 states basketball is just a game, but this is Indiana,” would be trite and reductive if it weren’t so thoroughly true.

4 thoughts on “Central Indiana Is Hoops Heaven for Another Two Months

  1. Jeff Gregory

    I couldn’t agree more. This perspective is getting lost by some younger folks. I cannot fathom why a kid from Indiana would choose to do their college work out of state if they could play for a suitable D1 school in Indiana. Just being in Indiana makes for a meaningful piece basketball lore. While people still talk about Damon Bailey and Calbert Cheaney, I hear nothing about Walter McCarty or Erik Montross. Chances are no one will be talking very much about Trey Lyles or Gary Harris in ten years.

    What’s worse is a kid like Jaquan Lyle from Evansville. He was on the verge of setting scoring records and a decent chance at Mr. Basketball. Plus, he had full ride offers from IU and Purdue. He left Evansville for a prep school in West Virginia which is actually a glorified AAU team and plays like one. He will probably end up at West Virginia or Xavier. He could still land in Kansas. Either way, he will be an after thought in ten years unless he makes his way back to IU or Purdue; he is already an after thought here in Evansville.

    I remember being around out of state kids at IU basketball camps lamenting that they couldn’t play high school ball in Indiana. They would say that when they play an Indiana school, the atmosphere is not like any other. Even Lyle mentioned that after a recent trip to Arsenal Tech. Some of these kids that are here just blow my mind.

    Maybe all this stuff isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things, but I think most people (especially athletes) like the idea of having some kind immortality. Nothing is better for a basketball player than being part of Indiana basketball lore. Just ask Bobby Plump.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      It’s hard for us to judge the impact a prep school has on a kid who plays basketball at a high level, but I’ve never seen one return as a superior player or person than when they left.

      Maybe that’s an inaccurate perception based upon my belief that finishing what you start is a better path, especially when there is a little adversity to overcome.

      McCarty’s name might not mean much in Evansville, but he won a national championship, had a decade long NBA career, and is doing well for himself as an assistant coach in the NBA.

      I think Gary Harris will be just fine after playing for Tom Izzo, and learning whatever it is they teach kids at Michigan State.

      I understand your point that there are advantages to being a Hoosier hero, but there are many paths to basketball success that run outside Indiana borders.

      1. Jeff Gregory

        I would never say that you have to play college inside Indiana to have a successful career. I picked McCarty on purpose. DESPITE his accolades, he isn’t talked about much even in his home town.I don’t hear his name bandied about much by the staunch UK fans I am around on a daily basis, either, but I do hear about Rex Chapman and other in-state Kentucky vets.

        Damon Bailey, from Bedford, is talked about more here than McCarty and he really had no basketball career to speak of (although he is coaching in Bedford and I wouldn’t know that if he wasn’t a Hoosier legend).

        My point is that you can have a successful career from any school. You really have only one shot at being a lasting part of Indiana tradition. There are kids from other states that would kill for it and there are kids here that are just pissing it away. It blows my mind.


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