Basketball: It’s different here

January 21, 2019

What makes basketball special in Indiana?

During the week, we asked our local coaches for their thoughts in advance of Saturday’s Day of Basketball celebration across the state.

The answers, as one would expect, center on a broad range of subjects -- history, tradition, gymnasiums, communities and people.

It started for me on my driveway with a basket on the garage. My dad didn’t understand. I’d hear it every time I hit the door when a shot was short. If you were like me, you played in all weather. Snow wasn’t a problem as long as you had a shovel. You knew it was a good day when you had cracks on the tips of your index and middle fingers.

Unfortunately, my limited physical talents didn’t take me past eighth grade. I went to Andrean during the Dan Dakich era and the 3-point line hadn’t yet been implemented, so the odds were against me. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I channeled my passion into fandom and our two-year ride only fueled it more. The 1980 Final Four was as good as any set of games in the old tournament format. I still remember sitting in Mackey Arena crying after a loss to Brownsburg in the semistate the following year. Some might say it was a foreshadowing of my future as a Boilermaker.

I was lucky enough to channel my hoops love into a job a few years later when I started writing at the Purdue Exponent. My claim to fame was being at Assembly Hall when Bobby Knight threw the infamous chair across the court.

It’s been a lot of years and a lot of games since, and as I told a friend in the hospitality room at Kouts the other night, the fire hasn’t faded one ember. After all, if you’re a true fan of the game and you live in this state, it never does.

It comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s inner city with black top courts, suburbia with spacious fieldhouses and country with rims on old barns.

You’ve got big schools with thousands of kids and small schools with barely 100. There are big gyms like Michigan City’s Wolves Den and quaint venues like little LaCrosse, where you could swear Gene Hackman’s going to walk out of the locker room.

Sure, the crowds in many places aren’t what they used to be, and you can debate on and on as to why, but you still have your teenage basketball crazies in the student sections where clever themes and coordinated outfits have become the trend.

Everybody has their preference and none of them are wrong, though if you lean to the old-fashioned, the small school gym atmosphere is beyond compare. I sat next to a man the other night who was proudly sporting his Morgan Township letterman’s jacket. The year? 1963.

Conference tournaments have gone the way of the dinosaur, but the Porter County Conference, which in case anybody doesn’t know, includes three La Porte County schools, is a diamond whose shine has endured the test of time, inching toward a century in length on the boys side. If you haven’t experienced it, do yourself a favor and trek on down to Kouts on Monday or Tuesday, weather permitting, grab a seat on the balcony, and take it all in. If you only watch the game, you’re missing a big part of it.

At a time when there doesn’t seem to be much we can agree upon in our divided country, basketball unifies us in Indiana, no matter what colors we’re wearing. Our state is the butt of jokes in other places, but we stand alone when it comes to hoops.

Over 40 years later, I still have a basket in my driveway.

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