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SPORTS: NCAA tourney sure to have lots of Hoosier flavor

March 17, 2008

Of this, that and the other while sifting through the e-mails that made it clear many of you still believe the Indiana Pacers are the embodiment of evil and incompetence.

Oh, well; I tried.

It was just a few years ago, wasn't it, when Indiana college basketball was in a swoon?

Now you see the Hoosier influence here, there and everywhere.

When the NCAA Tournament pairings are announced, four Indiana teams-Butler, Purdue, Notre Dame and Indiana-are assured of being in the field. That is likely to be the most, or tied for the most, from any state.

IUPUI, although recording its winningest season ever, almost made it but was most likely out after losing a tough Summit League championship game to Oral Roberts.

In addition to the Hoosier-stocked rosters at Purdue and Butler, you also have native sons such as Courtney Lee (Pike, Western Kentucky), Luke Harangody (Andrean, Notre Dame), Dominic James (Richmond, Marquette) and Robert Vaden (Pike, Alabama-Birmingham) playing starring roles.

Back to IUPUI. Tell me the Jags' outstanding senior, George Hill, who prepped at Broad Ripple, can't make an NBA roster somewhere. He has a beautiful jump shot and the ability to dribble-drive, and is a good passer and rebounder.

Ditto for Butler's Mike Green.

One more thing about IUPUI. Ten of the Jags are from Indiana and, as a team, they are among the nation's top four in two-point field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage. Coincidence? I think not.

I couldn't have been happier than to see Matt Painter be named the Big Ten coach of the year. I would hope a few national awards follow. The Boilermakers epitomize the oldfashioned concepts of team and hustle. Mark my words, that group will be in a Final Four before this freshman class leaves.

It's difficult to put a knock on a youngster who led the Big Ten in scoring and was the league's freshman of the year. But Indiana's Eric Gordon is anything but ready for the NBA, though he's virtually certain to be a high draft pick and cash a huge check.

Meanwhile, his teammate, D.J. White, has done far more with his abilities than has Gordon, yet will be considerably less likely to make it on the next level.

I'm going to miss watching a Graves play for Butler. First Matt, then Andy, and now A.J. I can only hope to live long enough to see a next-generation Graves in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

While we await the Final Four, NCAA version, Indianapolis has reached the final four of cities bidding for USA Basketball's headquarters. Indy is up against USAB's current home, Colorado Springs, along with Glendale, Ariz. (a Phoenix suburb), and Louisville.

Landing USAB would be a major coup and sustain the success of the amateur sports strategy mapped out 30 years ago. Indy's central location, the synergy of USAB's being in the same neighborhood with the NCAA and four other national governing bodies, and the city's long-standing relationship with USAB dating back to 1984 when the Olympic doubleheader took place in the Hoosier Dome, will all factor in the bid.

It will require the same creativity and ingenuity that was in play when Indianapolis enticed the Big Ten tournaments to Conseco Fieldhouse for the next five years. One of the more appealing facets of that bid was post-graduate scholarships that would be awarded to a Big Ten male and female student athlete.

Jerry Semler, former CEO at OneAmerica and one of the city's greatest allies over the years, led the fund-raising efforts and, this past week, those first $2,500 postgraduate scholarships-named for former Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke-were awarded.

IU football player Kevin Trulock, a place kicker, got one. He's a 4.0 pre-med student. Penn State swimmer Molly Crispell collected the other. She's also a 4.0 student majoring in biobehavioral health.

Yes, student-athletes. Think those two will make a difference some day?

Finally, Oscar Robertson-in my opinion, the greatest basketball player ever-will return to his hometown to sign copies of his book, "The Big O ... My Life, My Times, My Game," March 21, at the downtown Borders, 11 S. Meridian St., beginning at 5:30 p.m. If I had a son or grandson, I would want him to have the honor and privilege of shaking Oscar's hand.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. To comment on this column, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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