Basketball highlight of life in Indiana

Welcome to Indiana basketball indeed.

In a little less than two weeks, the IHSAA will reveal the sectional pairings for the state girls basketball tournament, the first sign of the impending hoopla coming our way in February and March.

I’ve lived more than a third of my life in Indiana now but this will be my first full go-round when it comes to covering the high school state tournaments here. I already know I’m not going to be disappointed.

In the past week, I’ve had the chance to catch basketball games in two of the largest high school gyms in the state (and, by extension, the country) in Southport and Columbus North. On Saturday, I was at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indy. With any luck, I’ll be back there again before long.

After being in spots like that, I can’t help but get geeked up thinking about what’s ahead come postseason time. And while I’ve remained able to resist caving in to my wife’s wishes that I refer to myself as a Hoosier, there’s definitely a nonzero chance that the next few months of basketball might push me over the edge.

I’m a walking example of East Coast bias and a native of the state where the sport was born, but game recognize game — when it comes to basketball, I’ll still take Indiana over any other place in the world.

There are other states and other areas with strong basketball traditions — heck, one of the last high school hoops games I’d covered before coming to Columbus was the 2004 Illinois state final, which featured a pair of future NBA lottery picks in Shaun Livingston and Julian Wright. That was pretty cool.

But I’ll still take Indiana.

Not only is the talent here at least on par with any other state, but this place just oozes history. Where else can you go and take in a game at John Wooden’s high school? (I was taken aback when I saw that Martinsville even has a life-sized wax Wooden in the hall outside its gym.)

Almost every school I go to seems to have some sort of homage to some NBA player or other legendary figure. It’s not even just the fact that Zach Randolph’s picture is up on the wall at Marion, or Jared Jeffries and Sean May’s Indiana All-Star jerseys are on display at Bloomington North. Almost every school in the state seems to have some piece of hoop heritage. But what’s equally impressive is how it’s all embraced and put on display.

Gyms aren’t just gyms in Indiana. They’re shrines.

And there are still plenty of those shrines that I’m eager to visit, whether at high schools or otherwise. (Whichever athletics director can help me line up a chance to cover a game at the Hoosier Gym has my eternal gratitude.)

The revved-up crowds, whether in those gigantic fieldhouses or in tiny bandboxes — there’s just something different about the whole spectacle here. I’ve loved almost every minute of it so far, and I can’t wait until next month, when the do-or-die part begins and everything I’ve seen during the regular season inevitably gets intensified to the nth degree.

Whether this is old hat for you or not, I hope you never take it for granted. I’ve been enough places by now to say with a fair degree of certainty that high school basketball doesn’t get any better than it gets here.

So enjoy these next few weeks. I’m planning to.

Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at roleary@therepublic.com.