Minus a few stars, Indiana All-Star team confident

Minus a few stars, Indiana All-Star team confident

News

Minus a few stars, Indiana All-Star team confident

By

 — When the headliners are not on the marquee, not on stage, does the play earn rave reviews? The annual Indiana-Kentucky All-Star basketball series will answer that question this week.

The border rivalry, which dates back 65 years, has battled to remain relevant during recent culture shifts. Attendance and interest lagged, and the two-week event has been cut down to one in recent years.

When the boys teams face off for this year’s series (Friday at 8 p.m. at Transylvania University in Lexington and Saturday in Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse), neither state’s Mr. Basketball will be in uniform.

Indiana Mr. Basketball Caleb Swanigan is attending training camp for the United States’ Under-19 national team in Colorado. Kentucky’s Camron Justice is attending summer school at Vanderbilt and won’t be released, according to his father Raymond, to participate.

“Ideally, we would love Caleb to represent Indiana and that No.1 jersey against Kentucky,” said Charlie Hall, the Indiana game director. “But by no means is he not representing that jersey with honor by trying out for the USA national team. He’s representing that jersey on a national level, and we have 11 other really good players.”

Despite the absence of Swanigan (and others), Indiana’s contingent maintains the series – on the northern side – is healthy and improving. The Indiana boys have won 13 straight games in the series they now dominate 91-42, and they insist they have the firepower to extend that.

The Indiana roster includes 14 players. But Swanigan, Marquette Catholic’s Ryan Fazekas (committed to attend summer sessions at Providence), and Columbus North’s Josh Speidel (recovering from a brain injury suffered during the regular season) will not be available.

So what? That’s the mindset of those who will face Kentucky.

“We’ll let all the outside influences talk about who isn’t here,’ said Mishawaka Marian’s Devin Cannady, who’s headed to Princeton. “We obviously would want them here. But we’re just focused on who is here, who’s playing, and who’s on the court.

“We’re representing Indiana. Whoever we’re up against, we have that sense of pride. It’s not ourselves but the name on the jersey. It’s a big deal.”

Swanigan’s absence means the Indiana Mr. Basketball won’t play for the second straight year. Trey Lyles, projected to be a first-round pick in the NBA draft after his one season at the University of Kentucky, sat out with an injury.

But those are rare cases. In Hall’s seven years at the helm, out of 168 boys and girls, Fazekas is the first player who was selected but torn away by his college program. Some have been denied the chance to practice with the team leading up to the games.

In Indiana, the All-Star designation still carries weight with the players. Attendance for the games in Indiana has risen in recent years, and the amount of money donated to the charities associated with the games has increased.

“It’s still the same, especially having the streak on our side,” said Zionsville 7-footer Derrik Smits, the son of former Indiana Pacers star Rik Smits. “It’s always going to be a big game, no matter where you’re from. There’s no pressure from the streak, it’s just the fact we’re all competitors and don’t want to lose. But it would be nice to add on to the streak. We still have a bunch of great players. We played really well together. So I think we’ll be fine without them. Obviously it would help to have the full lineup, but we’ll do well.”

Columbus East’s Brent Chitty, the Indiana coach, feels he has plenty of tools at his disposal.

“Every one of these kids are great players,” Chitty said. “Because of that, when you bring all these people together, you think about sharing the basketball. These guys have been incredible and played well together. They’ve done a good job of playing unselfishly.

“Do you know how much they pay me to do this? Nothing. So there’s no pressure.”

Justin Sokeland can be followed on Twitter at @golfguru55.

Latest

More USA TODAY High School Sports