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Hoosier homecoming: Four Utah Jazz players with Indiana ties relish return

Published March 20, 2017 7:26 am

Four Jazz players with Indianapolis ties relish return to the city
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Indianapolis • Geographically, the NBA is a worldwide melting pot, with players hailing from almost every conceivable spot on the globe. The NBA's influence domestically and internationally is a point of pride for the league. It isn't uncommon for a roster to feature players from several different countries.

The Utah Jazz are certainly not unique in this way. But they are unique in another: As they wrap up a four game road trip Monday at the Indiana Pacers, the Jazz feature four players with Indianapolis ties.

Three — George Hill, Trey Lyles and Gordon Hayward — are either straight out of Indy, or the immediate suburbs. Another — Shelvin Mack — originally hails from Kentucky, but led Butler University to a pair of Final Fours.

Because of his collegiate success, Hill, Hayward and Lyles grudgingly accept Mack into the Indianapolis family. With smiles and jokes, of course.

"Indy basketball, it's a proud tradition," Hill said. "The last decade or so, we've had a lot of guys come out and be successful. It's a proud thing, to have so many guys playing among the best 300 players in the world. I'm proud of where I'm from. And the other guys, I think they're proud of that, too."

The very subject of Indianapolis as one of the deeper basketball wells nationwide sparks conversation and trash-talk among the four. Hill is the only one from the inner-city, and isn't shy about letting the other three know, chiding Hayward and Lyles about being from "the suburbs."

In response, Lyles boasts that he's the only one of the four who was a McDonald's High School All-American. Hill said he once scored 50 points on Mack in a pro-am game in Indianapolis. He then says the proof is on YouTube, "just type in 'George Hill scores 50 points,'" Hill said.

Mack says Hill had a good game, but didn't come close to dropping 50. "It was more like 15 or 20," Mack said. The back and forth illustrates the friendship between the four. They genuinely like each other, a dynamic that shows up in their conversations.

The four are proud to be a part of the Indianapolis basketball family and a state rich in basketball history. In the 1950s, Oscar Robertson was honing his skills at Crispus Attucks High School, which became the first all-black school in the country to win a state championship.

As the decades passed, the tradition continued. Rick Mount and George McGinnis dominated in the 1970s. The 1980s would bring about Larry Bird. Damon Bailey was a high school sensation nationally in the 1990s. Greg Oden, Eric Gordon and Mike Conley broke out in the 2000s. And how could we forget Bobby Plump? All he did was lead tiny Milan High to the 1955 Indiana state title, the team that inspired the movie "Hoosiers."

And it's more than just players. Bobby Knight became one of the best coaches in college basketball history at Indiana. John Wooden, the most successful coach in NCAA history, hails from Indiana. Brad Stevens, who coached Hayward and Mack at Butler, is now one of the best coaches in the NBA, with the Boston Celtics.

"I think there have been so many great players over the years, that it's made us a proud tradition," Lyles said. "What they've been able to do in college and in the league has been tremendous. We are a unique brand of players and coaches. There have been a lot of guys who have had success from Indianapolis, and the state of Indiana in general."

When talking about basketball in Indianapolis, Hill, Lyles and Hayward perk up. They smile and they are eager to speak on where they came from. Through their travels in the league, they carry Indiana with them in different ways. Hill calls himself "Indiana George Hill" on Twitter, and earlier this season filmed a video explaining to Jazz fans why he won't ever change the name. Hayward, for most of his career, has gone home each summer to visit his parents and work on his game. Lyles mentions the state prominently on his Twitter page.

"To have four guys on one team with ties to the same place, yes, that's unique for sure," Hayward said. "Especially when you consider how small Indianapolis is. But Indiana is a basketball state, so in that way I'm not surprised. There's a lot of great players that came out of there."

The Jazz flew to Indianapolis shortly after Saturday's loss to the Chicago Bulls. Upon landing, Lyles, Hill and Hayward each went home to family, something they had been talking about since Utah's four game road trip began earlier in the week.

"I need to get a home-cooked meal," Lyles said.

All four have specific spots they like to frequent when in town. Hayward is a big fan of Donatos Pizza. Hill loves Kountry Kitchen Soul Food Place. Whenever possible, Lyles and Hill both try to go to Long's Bakery, a shop both famous for its doughnuts and for accepting only cash payments. Mack's favorite place is St. Elmo's Steak House.

"You know how good Long's is because when you go there there's always a huge line," Hill said.

On Sunday, the Jazz practiced in Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler, which made it to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the first time since Hayward and Mack were in uniform. The two took photos, and relished being home, Sunday.

You can bet Hill and Lyles did the same.

tjones@sltrib.com Twitter: @tribjazz —

Utah Jazz at Indiana Pacers

P Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

When • Monday, 5 p.m. MDT

TV • ROOT Sports

Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM

Records • Utah 43-27; Indiana 35-33

Last Meeting • Jazz 109-100 (Jan. 21)

About the Jazz • Utah is on a two-game losing streak, having lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. … The Jazz have been without Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood for the last two games. … Utah features four players on its roster with ties to the Indianapolis area. … The Jazz are currently in the fourth spot in the Western Conference

About the Pacers • Indiana will be on the second half of a back-to-back against the Jazz. … Paul George scored 39 points in a recent win over the Charlotte Hornets. … The Pacers have held nine of their last 11 opponents under 100 points. … Indiana has outrebounded nine of its opponents since the All-Star break






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