- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2011

TERRE HAUTE, IND. (AP) - Jake Kelly sees the reminders of Indiana State’s basketball past all around campus.

At the team office there are framed posters and photos representing the school’s best players and teams. On the wall of the practice facility are a handful of familiar quotes. Photos of the school’s most famous alumni, Larry Bird, still hang proudly in classroom buildings, and old-timers constantly remind the youngsters about the little team that could from 1979.

Every time the Sycamores make the NCAA tourney, the discussion starts again.

“We look up to what he (Bird) did,” said Kelly, the senior guard who transferred from Iowa after his mother died. “He averaged 30 (points) and 15 (rebounds), and he put Terre Haute and Indiana State in the headlines.”

Actually, the numbers were 28.6 and 14.9.

But the fact one of today’s college players can recite Bird’s 1979 stats from memory illustrates just how long Larry Legend’s shadow looms at a school less than 10 miles from the Indiana-Illinois line. How much the 1979 title game against Michigan State still matters.

The Sycamores practice in ISU Arena, which was the team’s home court in Bird’s days. Underneath the practice floor lies the wood Bird played on. Heck, even the Sycamores’ Missouri Valley Conference tourney title came on the first anniversary, March 6, of the debut of HBO’s documentary about Bird and Magic Johnson, the Spartans’ star who went on to battle Bird in the NBA.

Those in the Indiana State program don’t seem to mind.

From first-year coach Greg Lansing to senior guard Aaron Carter, the refrain is essentially the same. They embrace what the ‘79 title game, still the highest-rated in television history, and Bird represent.

“Being at a school where one of the best players to ever play and who led a mid-major to a championship game, I love it,” Lansing said. “It’s just special.”

Carving their own names into the school record books would take another team of superheroes.

It just so happens that was this season’s theme. The cartoon characters on Indiana State’s team poster have Kelly suited up as The Flash, Carter as Ironman and Jake Odum, the homegrown freshman, as Spider-Man.

Together, these three led Indiana State (20-13) back to the NCAA tourney for the first time in a decade and only the fourth time in school history. The Sycamores will face third-seeded Syracuse, the same school Butler eliminated on its way to last year’s title game, on Friday in Cleveland.

One win would put them in a class with only two other teams in school history _ Bird’s 1979 team and the 2001 team led by Michael Menser, Lansing’s brother-in-law and the coach at Terre Haute North High School.

Two wins and the 2010-11 Sycamores would go down as the second-best in school history, and they certainly have their supporters. At least three players from the ‘79 team _ Alex Gilbert, Bob Heaton and Brad Miley _ traveled to St. Louis for the MVC title game. That’s not all.

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