Basketball. It’s a pretty big deal in our fair state. Around here, we like to say that in 49 states, it’s just basketball. But this is Indiana! Our passion for the hardwood goes back for generations. It’s a tradition that runs deep. So much so, James Naismith, the inventor of this beloved game, once said this about our infatuation with basketball:
“Basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport.”
Not only do we take our basketball seriously, but we also take our high school basketball team names pretty seriously, too. Sure, there are teams like the Trojans, Wildcats, Tigers, and Irish. Those are to be expected. There’s also the historic team names like the Bedford North Lawrence Stars and the Milan Indians. But if we’re honest, these names are rather unremarkable. And you probably find these names in every other state.
I know other high schools in other states have some pretty unique names (like the Science Hill Hilltoppers in Johnson City, TN, and the Daniel Boone Trailblazers in Gray, TN), but these high school team names in Indiana just might take the cake. If you could choose a winner based on team name alone, these teams would probably dominate the hardcourt. You might even call them the Sweet Sixteen.
You see, Walter McCarty went to my high school. There’s a chance you might know who he is, but he was a big stinkin’ deal. He was a basketball superstar – a beast in the paint. Couldn’t hit an outside shot to save his life, but that was forgivable. After all, he led our high school to our first ever Sectional Championship in boys’ basketball. If you have any connection with the state of Indiana, you know how big of a deal this was – especially in the era before class basketball.
I grew up on the banks of the Ohio in the Pocket City, right at the border between Indiana and Kentucky. The rivalry between IU and KY fans is especially heated in that region. So when our beloved #40 chose to play college ball for Rick Pitino down the road in Lexington, it was a big deal. A BIG. deal. I understand that Pitino ran a clean program while leading the Wildcats. But that didn’t really matter. McCarty had chosen to leave his Hoosier homeland and play for a program that had a reputation for cheating.
I understand his reasoning. He saw it as his best opportunity. And it ultimately made him a more well-rounded player. He wanted to learn how to shoot outside. I appreciate that. I really do. But, man, an inside-outside McCarty/Cheaney combo at IU would’ve been awful lethal against any team that came their way. So at the time of his decision, it felt like he was just taking his thumb and sticking it right in the collective eye of the state of Indiana. An Indiana kid choosing to play hoops at KY over any school in the state of Indiana? That’s borderline anathema.
As a fan, I found myself in between the proverbial rock and a hard place. I desperately wanted my high school classmate* of mine do well. It’s just part of taking pride in your Alma Mater. I mean, can you say that Scott Studwell, Calbert Cheaney, and Walter McCarty went to your high school? Well, unless you went to mine, you can’t. If #40 had chosen any other school to play for, I wouldn’t have had any problem cheering for him whatsoever.
But he chose Kentucky.
I was raised right. My Daddy was, too. If I ever cheered for the Wildcats out of Lexington, KY, I know my grandpa would roll over in his grave. Shoot. He’d probably do more than that. I’m sure he’d find a way to haunt my dreams for the rest of my life.
This loyalty runs deep. It’s in my blood. Our family’s passion for the Cream and Crimson probably borders on hysteria.**
So I tried to walk this fine line of wishing Walter McCarty well and hoping that he’d be successful as an individual player. But I was also hoping against hope that his team would lose every game by 40+ points. In fact, I really wouldn’t have been disappointed at all if he was the only player on his team to score any points during his college career.
Of course, that didn’t happen.
McCarty’s Cats were good. Very good. And Walter was a pretty good player, too. So it kind of got tougher to root for him as his college career progressed. But I tried. Except that one time. He hit a game-winning shot. Against my Hoosiers.
You might call it poetic. I call it ripping open a wound and pouring rubbing alcohol all over it and then covering it with salt.
You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I really didn’t pay much attention to Walter McCarty’s college career after that game. I guess he was dead to me until he joined the NBA.
So what does this have to do with Reggie Wayne?
Quite a bit, actually.
I mean, I didn’t go to school with Reggie. He’s not even from Indiana, originally. But this community embraced him. And he embraced our community. Both inside and outside of football, Reggie Wayne did a lot of good♠ as an Indianapolis Colt. We’re big “Weggie Wayne” fans in our household.
I get that there’s really no real loyalty in the NFL when it comes to teams and players. I get that it’s a “what have you done for me lately?” league. So I understand that the Colts made a business decision to cut #87. I don’t like it. But I understand it.
Business is business, after all.
Because of that, I understand that Reggie wants to keep playing. I understand that there are only so many teams who would be interested in a veteran player who is probably looking at the twilight of his career.
Business is business, after all.
But the Patriots? Come on, Reggie. It’s like Walter McCarty choosing the Wildcats all over again. He chose to go to a team with a reputation of cheating. And they’re the team Indy fans love to hate the most. I can’t help but think that Reggie was sticking his thumb in the collective eye of central Indiana when he signed along the dotted line.
It’s going to be hard, but I guess I’ll have to go ahead and cheer for #15. I hope he makes a bunch of catches and has a lot of touchdowns. But I also hope the Patriots lose each game by an average of 50+ points. But if he makes a game-winning catch against the Colts? His name shall be banned from our house for at least the next decade.
That was close. There’s no way I could’ve cheered for him in a Patriots jersey.
I feel bad that he’s not with a team now. But I know I’ll cheer for him and be happy for him if he signs with any other team. Promise. I’ll probably even chant “Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie!” if he returns to Indianapolis. There’s no way I could’ve done that if he was with New England.
Thank you, Reggie.
*OK, I never had any classes with him. He was a couple of years older than me. But I definitely saw him in the hallways. And watched him play ball. So that counts as a classmate. Right? **Just so we’re clear, that’s Hoosier Hysteria.
♣ I just read that article again. And yes, it got me a little misty-eyed. Again.
High school tournaments are in full swing. Student athletes are delivering heartfelt speeches on Senior Nights. Conference tournaments have started. Selection Sunday is just around the corner. Some upsets have already happened. Congratulations, Illinois State, for knocking off the Shockers today. The ball will soon be tipped for that One Shining Moment. And people are talking like coaches will gladly jump from the NBA to coach the Cream and Crimson. I think they’re dreaming, by the way. But that’s a different post for a different time. Maybe. I’m not sure I have the energy to get involved in the argument. Let’s just say that I think it’s a pretty bold assumption that it would happen.
They’re all signs that March has begun, my friends. And I can’t be any happier. This is, without a doubt, the most wonderful time of the year. I love all things about this season. And it’s even more special this year because, once again, our fair city is hosting the men’s Final Four and there are all kinds of fun festivities planned for that weekend. We’ll be there. Shoot, we might even wear some candystripes since it’s highly unlikely that our beloved Hoosiers will be wearing theirs on the court come game time that weekend.
Ah, March and basketball.
It goes together like cheese and crackers
Like socks and shoes
Like biscuits and gravy
Like parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Like R2D2 and C3PO
Like peanut butter and jelly.
It’s March. And it’s full of hysteria, insanity, and wall to wall basketball. And I love every minute of it.
Because in 49 states, it’s just a game. But this is Indiana. And we love our basketball. We love it so much that I think Thursday and Friday of opening weekend should be declared a state holiday. Shoot. Let’s make it a Federal holiday. I mean, come on, it’s not like anyone with a desk job is working when these games are on. So why not go ahead and give everyone those days off so we can celebrate the greatness of college basketball in March?
Come on. You know you like the idea. It fits. Like peanut butter and jelly. Then you we can watch basketball, basketball, and more basketball.
I feel I must make this disclaimer before I say what I want to say: I realize Class Basketball is here to stay in Indiana. It’s not going away.
With that being said, I’m still not entirely convinced that it’s the best thing for Indiana basketball. A few years ago, I was still an adamant opponent of Class Basketball. This belief even led to an interesting discussion with a guy online from a small school in Southern Indiana about the pros and cons of the class system. After moving to a small town with a Class-A school, I expected my opinion to change about the system because my perspective has changed. But I’m still not convinced.
It certainly hasn’t done Cowan any good. The Blackhawks entered the Sectionals (an hour drive away) as the favorite due to the fact that they were the only team with a winning record in the Sectional and they had a 5-0 record against the rest of the field.
While this article is a little painful for a southern Indiana boy who grew up loving basketball, I think Pat Forde has hit the nail right on the head.
Indiana basketball as a whole is not what it used to be even 10 years ago. I think he hits the nail on the head when he puts some of the blame on the inane move to class basketball. The tradition had been slipping before then, and that happens when you keep coaches around too long (*cough* Indiana, *cough, cough* Purdue *cough), but the move to class basketball sure took the wind out of the sails out of what once was called Hoosier Hysteria.
Sampson has his work cut out for him, but I think he can help right the ship. It’s not just up to him, though. It would be nice for IU to set the standard, though.