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Dan Dakich, a radio talk show host who grew up in the northwest Indiana, played high school ball at Andrean, near Chicago. He played at Indiana and served as a longtime assistant on Bob Knight’s staff before taking the head coaching gig at Bowling Green, then returned to Indiana in 2008 and wound up serving as the interim coach when Kelvin Sampson was fired amid NCAA recruiting violations.

“The one thing that really demonstrated it to me was when Indiana was ready to get rid of Kelvin Sampson even though he had a good team and even though he was winning,” Dakich said. “Don’t get me wrong. I liked Kelvin. But the fans didn’t just want to win, they wanted to win the right way and you just don’t always find that.”

Those who have gone beyond the borders understand.

“In Kentucky, high school basketball is strong, but the University of Kentucky is so strong, it’s more about the university. The thing in this state is that it’s about the sport,” said Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who was a student manager for the Wildcats. “It’s widespread. You don’t meet people who don’t understand the game, who don’t appreciate the game.”

Perhaps that’s why the state has such a long basketball lineage.

Indiana, which ranks 16th in the nation in population, has 12 of America’s 13 largest high-school gyms including the 9,325-seat New Castle Fieldhouse.

This is the state Hall of Fame coach John Wooden called home, that turned Knight, Gene Keady and Digger Phelps into household names, that remembers Butler Hall of Fame coach Tony Hinkle as the man who created the orange basketball. It’s produced some of college basketball’s greatest scorers — Calbert Cheaney, Clyde Lovellette, Rick Mount and Adrian Dantley — and where two of the greatest NBA players in history — Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird — honed their skills, one on a dirt court and one down on the farm.

It’s where Bobby Plump and Milan created the real-life script for one of Hollywood’s greatest sports movies, “Hoosiers,” and where the sequel nearly came to life again during Butler’s improbable tourney runs.

Over the years, only the names and faces have changed.

Of the 360 NBA players drafted over the past six seasons, 22, or 6.1 percent played either high school or college basketball in Indiana, a list includes 13 first-round picks with at least one first-round choice in all six years. And all this from a state that accounts for approximately 2.1 percent of the American population.

Still don’t believe it?

Walk into a Pacers game where adult women are dressed in their players’ favorite jerseys, or Assembly Hall, where Indiana students have adopted a new mantra “Banner Up,” a clever play off the Boilermakers preferred chant of “Boiler Up” while incorporating the Hoosiers own measuring stick — adding a sixth national championship banner. At Mackey Arena, students keep count of defensive plays.

“Even driving out to the country, you’ll see basketball goals on barns or just stuck on a pole with a wooden backboard, so, you know it’s a sport that everybody loves out here and again, there’s a lot of hidden talent out here,” said Paul George, the Pacers All-Star swingman who grew up in California. “The fans, they’re real knowledgeable. They know the game. It’s not like they’re just fans of the players. They’re fans of the game. They actually know the game, so I think that’s what keeps them so loyal is that they just respect the game.”

Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague can attest to it, too. He played high school ball at Indianapolis Pike before heading to Wake Forest for college and becoming a starting guard for the Atlanta Hawks.

“I think everybody grows up playing basketball here. There’s a court on every driveway, a court in every backyard. It’s just like a religion almost,” he said. “They got into basketball (at Wake Forest), but here you go to an IU game and it’s packed to capacity. At Wake Forest, you might not see as many fans, they don’t get as loud, I don’t think they’re as passionate about it.”

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