Commentary

Indiana faces tough test in New York

Updated: February 19, 2009, 11:25 AM ET
By Mark Tennis | ESPNRISE.com

After getting into ESPN RISE's Great State Debate for boys' basketball by placing second among six states in last week's vote, Indiana and its passionate fans will now try to take a bite out of a Big Apple.

This week's vote, which is the first involving one state directly opposed to another, pits No. 8 Indiana against top-seed New York.

At its core, it's a pick between the raw power and sheer numbers of legendary New York basketball, not just in the city, against the homespun, almost farm-boy image of Indiana basketball.

The case for New York

Everyone knows about the famed playgrounds in New York City, especially Rucker Park in Harlem, where so many great players have honed their skills and toughened their play.

But not every great player from the state of New York is from the city. The one and only Dr. J -- Julius Erving -- is from Long Island, while Hall of Famer Bob Lanier and NCAA legend Christian Laettner are from Buffalo.

Not every great team is from the city, either. In 2005, Niagara Falls ended at 28-1 with a New York Federation state title and was No. 1 in the final FAB 50 national rankings.

With New York City as the anchor, the Empire State just can't be beaten for basketball power. In fact, if you were to select an all-time team of 10 legendary New York players, there's no question that several Hall of Fame inductees would not be on the list. The state's depth is that strong.

Great State Debate

The Great State Debate pits the country's best boys' basketball states against each other to determine which among them is best. In the first round, No. 1 seed New York takes on No. 8 seed Indiana, one of the winners of last week's vote-off.

More Great State Debate

The state's most famous all-time player would have to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was known as Lew Alcindor when he was leading Power Memorial of Manhattan in the 1960s. At Power Memorial, Alcindor led the team to a 71-game winning streak. He later led UCLA to an 88-2 record in three seasons with three national titles, and in the NBA he was part of six title teams and set the league's all-time career scoring record.

The case for Indiana

High school basketball is part of the culture in Indiana, according to veteran Hoosier State coach Doug Mitchell.

"Elementary school kids in small towns across the state learn the fundamentals of the game," says the 16-year coaching veteran of North Central High School in Indianapolis. "The passion for the sport, along with the tradition, competition and coaching, makes it special."

The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame motto echoes those sentiments: "In 49 states, it's just basketball … This is Indiana."

The state was the setting for "Hoosiers," one of the greatest sports movies ever made, and has a tradition that includes some of the largest high school gymnasiums in the land, notes Mitchell, the 28-year veteran high school and college coach.

It's a state which has produced arguably the greatest college coach in history, UCLA's John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, who has been inducted into the International Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and coach, as well as Oscar Robertson, who some consider the greatest all-around player in history. Then there's Larry Legend (Bird) from French Lick, one of those small towns that Mitchell talks about.

This season, there are no national player of the year candidates like Greg Oden, the 2006 consensus selection from unbeaten Lawrence North High in Indianapolis, the nation's No. 1 ranked team. But there are several players who have committed to major colleges or are being courted by Division 1 schools.

Best of New York, Indiana

All-time best New York players
[+] EnlargeLew Alcindor
AP PhotoLew Alcindor was one of the greatest players to come from New York.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Power Memorial, NYC)
Kenny Anderson (Archbishop Molloy, Briarwood)
Nate Archibald (DeWitt Clinton, Bronx)
Elton Brand (Peekskill)
Roger Brown (Wingate, Brooklyn)
Bob Cousy (Andrew Jackson, Bronx)
Billy Cunningham (Erasmus Hall, Brooklyn)
Julius Erving (Roosevelt)
Lloyd "World B" Free (Canarsie, Brooklyn)
Connie Hawkins (Boys, Brooklyn)
Mark Jackson (Bishop Laughlin, Brooklyn)
Bernard King (Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn)
Christian Laettner (Nichols, Buffalo)
Bob Lanier (Bennett, Buffalo)
Felipe Lopez (Rice, New York)
Stephon Marbury (Lincoln, Brooklyn)
Jamal Mashburn (Cardinal Hayes, Bronx)
Chris Mullin (Xaverian, Brooklyn)
Lamar Odom (Redemption Christian, Troy)
Sam Perkins (Shaker, Latham)
Dolph Schayes (Dewitt Clinton, Bronx)
Kenny Smith (Archbishop Molloy, Briarwood)
Sebastian Telfair (Lincoln, Brooklyn)
Dewayne "Pearl" Washington (Boys & Girls, Brooklyn)
Lenny Wilkins (Boys, Brooklyn)

All-time best Indiana players
Steve Alford (Chrysler, New Castle)
Damon Bailey (Bedford North Lawrence, Bedford)
Larry Bird (Spring Valley, French Lick)
Louie Dampier (Southport, Indianapolis)
Eric Gordon (North Central, Indianapolis)
Shawn Kemp (Concord, Elkhart)
George McGinnis (Washington, Indianapolis)
Kyle Macy (Lebanon, Peru)
Rick Mount (Lebanon)
Greg Oden (Lawrence North, Indianapolis)
Oscar Robertson (Crispus Attucks, Indianapolis)
Glenn Robinson (Roosevelt, Gary)
Scott Skiles (Plymouth)
Dick Van Arsdale (Manual, Indianapolis)
Tom Van Arsdale (Manual, Indianapolis)
John Wooden (Martinsville)

Top five current New York players
(Based on ESPNU Scouts Inc. rankings)
Lance Stephenson (Lincoln, Brooklyn) 6-8 Sr.
Durand Scott (Rice, Manhattan) 6-2 Sr.
Tobias Harris (Long Island Lutheran, Brookville) 6-7 Jr.
Jayvaughn Pinkston (Bishop Laughlin, Brooklyn) 6-6 Jr.
Taran Buie (Bishop Maginn, Albany) 6-0 Jr.

Top five current Indiana players
(Based on ESPNU Scouts Inc. rankings)
DeShaun Thomas (Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne) 6-8 Jr.
Marquis Teague (Pike, Indianapolis) 6-1 Soph.
Stephan Van Treese (Lawrence North, Indianapolis) 6-9 Sr.
Derek Elston (Tipton) 6-8 Sr.
D.J. Byrd (North Montgomery, Crawfordsville) 6-5 Sr.

Top five current New York teams
(Based on ESPN RISE FAB 50)
Rice (Manhattan)
Christ The King (Middle Village)
Jamesville-Dewitt (Dewitt)
Mount Vernon
Lincoln (Brooklyn)

Top five current Indiana teams
(Based on ESPN RISE FAB 50)
Bloomington South (Bloomington)
Lawrence North (Indianapolis)
New Albany
Marion
North Central (Indianapolis)

Mark Tennis is the deputy sports editor for ESPNRISE.com