COLUMN: Making Memories

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Best basketball of the summer tips off Friday in Louisville

By John Herndon

There are times in this business something just stays with you.

Many, perhaps most, would deem the particular moment insignificant, but for some reason, you just remember.

One of those times in my 26 years of pecking out copy came two years ago this week. I was in the crowded media room of Bellarmine University's Knights Hall. Indiana's Mr. Basketball, Jordan Hulls was talking about how much it meant to him to be able to play in the Indiana-Kentucky summer series.

(That is what they call the 71-year-old classic north of the Ohio River, you know.)

“This is not just another all-star game,” said Hulls, who now toils for Indiana University. “This was the best in Indiana going against the best in Kentucky. This is something we will remember the rest of our lives.”

Or the night before in Indianapolis, when Indiana coach David Wood reflected on the state of the series from the north side of the Ohio.

“This series is awfully special to me and to a lot of people,” said Wood, who grew up in Indy. “I remember watching Billy Keller and Oscar Robertson and George McGinnis.”

You could have grown up on the south side of the river and inserted the names Darrell Griffith, Jim McDaniels and Rex Chapman.

It would not matter.

Just say amen. Amen, again.

The grand old series tips off again Friday night in Louisville. They square off the following night in Indianapolis. Indiana has an 83-42 lead in the boys' series and is heavily favored to pass the 2-to-1 ratio this week.

But they are going to have to play basketball.

A year ago, Indiana was even a heavier favorite against a Kentucky team that had only three players heading to Division I schools. It took some last minute heroics from Deshaun Thomas, now at Ohio State, and a missed 3-pointer in the final seconds for the Hoosiers to win in Louisville. The following night, they won handily in Indy.

“There were tears in our dressing room after the game in Louisville,” Anderson County coach Glen Drury said last year. He was an assistant coach for the Kentucky team and will be guiding the Kentucky team this weekend.

Indiana noticed.

“You can have all of the All-Americans you want, but when the ball goes up, you still have to play,” is what last year's Indiana coach Ron Hecklinski, of Anderson, said. “Those kids competed.”

Unlike those ridiculous games that a shoe company will put on to draw players from around the nation for an ESPN dunk fest, the Kentucky-Indiana game – the correct name once you cross the Kennedy Bridge heading south – is real basketball.

As in passing, rebounding and pick-and-rolls. It is an all-star game where players actually play defense. Or, at least, they try to.

And they actually practice.

Drury had his team together for an intense mini-camp on May 20-22, then will have had everyone together for an entire week before Friday's game. It's not exactly like coming together on Oct. 15 with the season-opener six weeks away, but it is as close as you will get in an all-star setting.

That's why Kentucky has a chance this weekend.

Conventional wisdom has Indiana, with three McDonald's All-Americans, grinding up the Bluegrass boys. But Kentucky, which has about half the population of its northern neighbors, has 10 players that have signed with Division I schools.

And we are not talking about a bunch of hyphenated schools, either. Even though three of Kentucky's best curiously opted to not play – their loss, by the way – Kentucky is talented too.

Most of all, this is a game of tradition. Former players read like a Who's Who of Hoops.
From the north, the names include Steve Alford, Damon Bailey and this year's headliner, future Kentucky Wildcat Marquis Teague.

On the southern side of the river, the names are just as illustrious, though not as many: Wes Unseld, Goose Givens and Allan Houston.

Yet, over time, attendance has waned.

Gone are the days when Butler Fieldhouse or Freedom Hall was packed. In Indy, they still play in the best arena around, Conseco Fieldhouse, but a five-figure attendance would be a miracle.
After leaving Freedom Hall, the Kentucky home has been at Rupp Arena, Memorial Coliseum, Frankfort Civic Center, Louisville Gardens, Owensboro, and Bowling Green before settling at Knights Hall two years ago. Crowds have been good at Bellarmine, but let's face it, that is a Division II facility.

It is a very good one, but still Division II.

In a small way, that is a shame. This series is a hoops gem, but seems to be slowly slipping away. Ticket sales in Kentucky are a fund-raiser for the Lions Club Eye Bank while in Indiana, the Indinapolis Star newspaper donates proceeds to local non-profit organizations.

Journalists are really not supposed to ask people to attend games, but I really don't care what the rules are now. If you love hoops and can make it in any way, you should be at Bellarmine on Friday night. If you can, head on up to Indy on Saturday.

I can promise you that you won't find any better basketball all summer long.