The closest we’ve come to an Indiana version of “Field of Dreams” might be the Knox Indy Pro-Am, the annual event taking place this year at Jonathan Byrd’s Fieldhouse at Grand Park in Westfield.
The players aren’t literally coming out of the cornfields, but the cornfields aren’t far away. On one night last week, Trey Lyles, Yogi Ferrell, Andre Owens, David Logan, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Chrishawn Hopkins shared the court. If you’ve followed basketball in this area for any period of time, those names mean something.
On Thursday night, I caught up with four players, all at a different intersection of his basketball career, to find out where they’ve been and what’s to come:
The 6-10 Lyles was the featured name at the Pro-Am on Thursday night, along with Ferrell. After his rookie season with the Utah Jazz (he averaged 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds), Lyles returned home to train with his father, Tom, and his former high school at Tech, Jason Delaney.
“We went to work,” Tom Lyles said.
It appeared to pay off for Lyles, who was a dominant performer for the Jazz in the summer league in Las Vegas. In five games, the 2014 IndyStar Mr. Basketball averaged 23.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists and knocked down 47 percent of his 3-pointers.
“(When I came back home) we were shooting a lot,” Lyles said. “I was also getting in the best shape and condition possible. I think it showed in summer league play. I was able to go out there and play at a high level for a longer period of time. It showed that what I was working on (at home) worked in the games.”
Lyles, 20, said the “wow” factor of playing in the NBA was gone after “about 15 games.” There were a few butterflies, though, every time the Jazz played the Lakers. Lyles’ rookie season in the league coincided with the 20th and final for his boyhood idol, Kobe Bryant.
In the final game of the regular season, Lyles had 18 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. He was slightly overshadowed by Bryant’s 60 points in a 101-96 Lakers’ win.
“It was a great experience for me,” said Lyles, the No. 12 pick out of Kentucky in 2015. “Kobe was my favorite player — he still is my favorite player. Being able to go out there and be a part of his last game ever in the NBA and history that was a great experience. It was a crazy show in there for him, and I was glad to be a part of it.”
Basketball is a job for Lyles. But barely two years removed from his days in the green-and-white at Tech, he said the game is still a game to him.
“You can’t let the fun go away,” he said. “It is a business and all the decisions that are made are on the business part of it. But you also have to go out there and have fun every day and realize you’re doing something only 400 people in the world get to do, which is play in the NBA.”
If life were a choose-your-own adventure book, it’d be fun to go back and read the alternative for Smith-Rivera. The 6-3 guard, a dominant fixture on the high school basketball scene at North Central for three years, transferred to Oak Hill Academy for his senior season in 2011-12.
“I probably could have won Mr. Basketball,” Smith-Rivera said.
It went to Hamilton Southeastern’s Gary Harris instead in 2012, with Ferrell as runner-up. After that season, Smith-Rivera went on to score 1,919 points in four seasons at Georgetown, ranking behind only Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Patrick Ewing, Reggie Williams and Alonzo Mourning in the Hoyas’ rich history.
But there is no NBA guarantee for Smith-Rivera, who was not selected in June’s draft. He had individual workouts for the Knicks, Rockets and Jazz and visited the Hawks and Wizards for workouts.
“You never know,” Smith-Rivera said. “I’m waiting for that call. Hopefully I can go into training camp strong. If not training camp, hopefully I can go overseas and play.”
While back in Indianapolis, Smith-Rivera has been working with trainers Shon Bolden and Chris Thomas. Smith-Rivera is living most of the time now in Houston, at least until he gets the call he’s hoping for.
“I feel like I can make a lot of plays in the pick-and-roll and can score,” he said. “The biggest thing is just getting the opportunity to show I can fit in with a team. I feel like my game translates pretty well, to be honest. Once the opportunity presents itself, I’ll showcase what I can do. I’ll be ready.”
After winning a state title with Lyles at Tech in 2014, Tyler was expected to come in as a freshman at Ball State and make an immediate splash.
It started out that way. The 6-2 guard started his first nine games in 2014-15 and was averaging 12 points a game. Then, reality hit. Tyler was declared academically ineligible for the second semester of his freshman season.
Tyler said it was a lesson learned the hard way.
“Academics first,” he said. “I had a lot of distractions from the hype coming in from high school and us winning a state championship. I think I let it get to me too much. It went down a bad road. But now I know how things work. I know how to take care of business.”
Tyler fulfilled promise as a sophomore as he averaged 9.1 points and shot 36 percent from the 3-point line. Ball State improved by 14 wins to 21-14.
Tyler started the final 16 games of the season and played particularly well in Mid-American Conference and postseason play.
“(My freshman year) humbled me a lot,” he said. “I appreciate basketball a lot more than I did.”
With two years left, Tyler said his primary goal is to help Ball State to a MAC title and make a run at the NCAA tournament.
“I’d love to be one of the top five players in the MAC,” he said. “But I’m focused on what our team needs to do. We want to make a run at the tournament.”
When Hopkins was recruited to Butler out of Manual, one of the first goals he set with former coach Brad Stevens was to earn his degree. Hopkins accomplished it, earning a degree from Wright State in organizational leadership.
“It was well worth it,” he said. “Me being the first person in my family with a degree is really satisfying. I’m glad I got to accomplish at least one of my goals so far. I have a couple more to accomplish.”
One of those is to play professional basketball. Hopkins, 25, knows the clock is ticking. He’s planning on a September tryout with the Long Island Nets of the NBA Developmental League, where former Butler guard Ronald Nored is coach.
“I’m trying to find somewhere to play while my body is holding up for me,” Hopkins said. “I can still jump a little bit so I want to get out and play somewhere. That’s the ultimate goal. It’s easier said than done, that’s for sure.”
The 6-2 Hopkins, a 2010 Indiana All-Star, had an up-and-down college career. After a solid sophomore year at Butler in 2011-12 (9.1 ppg, 2.4 rebounds), Hopkins was kicked off the team in the fall of 2012 after a violation of team rules. After sitting out a year as a transfer, he put in a solid if not spectacular two seasons at Wright State (5.3 ppg as a junior and 8.5 ppg as a senior in 2014-15).
Hopkins, known for his out-of-this-world vertical jump, said he is playing five or six days a week in various leagues. He is an AT&T sales rep.
“If I had to do over again, I probably wouldn’t have passed as much,” he said. “That’s what (coaches) have been telling me for five, six years. I would have played harder. Sometimes I didn’t feel like playing. It wasn’t that I didn’t love the game or anything like that, I just didn’t feel it. I wasn’t pumped up to play. Now I feel like I have something to prove.”
Hopkins said he’s going to give it a couple more years before he gives up on his pro basketball dreams.
“I want to get somewhere before it’s too late,” he said. “I don’t want to be the old guy on the team who is a rookie.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.