Ewing, James provide good luck to starstruck players

Editor’s note: In the second in a series, IHSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament Director Kevin Horrigan gives us an insider’s look behind the scenes.

Many times during the IHSAA Boys Basketball State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, we have some of our high school practices right before or right after an NBA team have their practice. It is always was fun for me to see a group of high school players — and their coaches — get wide-eyed as they pass some of the big names in the league coming and going.

One story from many years ago I’ll share involves Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks. They had just finished practicing and had gone back to their locker room. Ewing had had so many injuries at this point in his career that before he could go back to the locker room, he had to sit down and ice for 20 minutes. And I do mean ice. He had ice bags on each side of both of his ankles, his knees, his elbows, one wrist, one hip and a shoulder. Nine ice bags in all.

He asked if it would be all right to stay where he was (in a chair at the end of the court) until the trainers would let him go to the locker room. I checked with the high school team getting ready to practice, and they said it was fine. I am not sure how much practicing they actually accomplished, because at first they were intimidated and in awe of Ewing sitting there watching them.

Finally, he asked me if he could speak with them. I said sure, and brought the team and coaches over to him. He asked them several questions about the state tournament: Were they ready to play? And, so on. Eventually, he asked if they had any questions for him. Nothing but awkward silence, until finally one player asked a question. That was it; now, everyone wanted to ask a question. And he took the time to answer them all, as well as to sign autographs and to allow pictures to be taken.

Finally, the trainers came back, took off all the ice bags and, as he got up to leave Ewing turned to the players and thanked them for keeping him company and wished them well in their quest for a state championship.

Again, I am not sure how much practice they actually got through that day. But, I can tell you that they won the state championship.

We have four locker rooms we use at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and two of them are the same ones used by the visiting NBA teams. The Pacers and Fever locker rooms are further away from the floor and in a more secluded area.

If the Pacers have a home game the night before our practice day or on the Friday night before the state championship games Saturday, I always enjoy telling the high school team assigned to that locker room which NBA team was in there the previous night. You should see their faces.

My favorite such occasion was when LeBron James played for the Miami Heat and had been in that room the night before. When I told the high school players that, one young man asked me if I knew which chair LeBron had used. I told him I was sorry, but I really did not know. Suddenly he ran around the room quickly sitting in each chair and squirming around in it while his teammates, coaches, and myself looked on wondering what on earth he was doing.

When he finally reached the last chair, he saw the puzzled looks on our faces. His quick comment: “Hey, LeBron is The Man and I’m just hoping a little bit of what he has rubs off on me!” It must have worked, because that team also won a state title.

State Finals schedule

105th Annual IHSAA Boys Basketball State Finals 

Date: Saturday

Site: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 125 S. Pennsylvania Street, Indianapolis

Admission: $15 per session

Television: Live on Fox Sports Indiana

Session I

Class A: Marquette Catholic (24-6) vs. Barr-Reeve (26-2), 10:30 a.m

Class 2A: Frankton (26-2) vs. Park Tudor (25-2), 12:45 p.m.

Session II

Class 3A: Griffith (19-10) vs. Guerin Catholic (21-8), 6 p.m.

Class 4A: Homestead (28-2) vs. Evansville Reitz (29-1), 8:15 p.m.

Coming Wednesday

Elephants seek shelter and a state championship fan loses his hat and his seat.