I think that's pretty unique, especially on one team, especially considering how small Indy is relative to some of the other states. —Jazz forward and Indiana native Gordon Hayward
INDIANAPOLIS — Not only are they basketball players on the same professional basketball team, but Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Trey Lyles and Shelvin Mack share a deeper bond than that with one another.
The four Utah Jazz athletes each have ties to Indianapolis.
Hayward, Hill and Lyles each grew up in the area, and Mack joined the party in college to play for Indy-based Butler.
“I think that’s pretty unique, especially on one team, especially considering how small Indy is relative to some of the other states,” Hayward said. “But Indiana is a basketball state, so it doesn’t surprise me.”
“Three of us from there and Shelvin played there,” Lyles added. “It’s a little connection we have, knowing the same people and same areas.”
Another thing that links the Hoosier State hoopsters together?
Trash talking about their connections to Indy.
“It comes with the territory,” Lyles said, smiling. “But it’s all fun.”
Mack grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, and he’s happy about that. Heck, his prep jersey was recently retired at Bryan Station High School there, so he’s got fond memories of his own town. However, the 26-year-old credits his college and people he met in Indianapolis for helping to mold him into the player and man he is today.
“I spent three years there. I grew as a person, as a player. I’ve got a lot of connections with the people in the city,” Mack said. “It’s not just basketball. The connections that I built with those people at Butler and Indianapolis are lasting a lifetime.”
That thoughtful tribute doesn’t spare him from being teased about not being an Indy native when it comes to the cruel (and hilarious) banter in the locker room.
When a reporter asked Hayward if they claim his old Butler teammate as a true Indianapolis guy, Hill quickly interjected, “Nah.”
Hayward, of course, is quick to claim the guy that helped the Bulldogs make two Final Four appearances.
“I do. He went to Butler,” Hayward said, sticking up for his friend who teamed with him to get the school to the 2010 NCAA championship game. “I think he spent enough time in Indianapolis. He’s not from Indy, but he still is a part of Indianapolis, for sure.”
Mack laughs about the back-and-forth conversations. It’s fun for him to have three guys who care so much about his college town.
“We talk about it a lot, especially where people grew up at,” Mack said. “Some people live in the suburbs. Some people say they live in the hood. We all have our jokes about that.”
Hill claims he has the most Indy cred. The fact that he has an Indiana George tattoo is a pretty good indicator of how much he loves his old stomping grounds.
“We talk about Indiana. They’re not technically from Indianapolis. I always make fun of them,” Hill said. “Gordon’s from Brownsburg and Trey’s really from Decatur. I don’t list them as Indianapolis guys, and I make fun of them about that. The best basketball is in Indianapolis. Anybody will tell you that.”
Hayward smirked when asked about Hill’s assertion that he’s not really an Indianapolis guy and when told that the ball was better in the city than in the suburbs.
“Brownsburg’s what, eight miles from Indy? To me it’s the same. Indy people always do like to say that,” Hayward said. “Whatever it was, we won our state when I was in high school. It seems like our style was a little superior.”
Lyles fired back, too. He isn't really from Decatur, by the way. That's an inside joke.
“I was (Indiana's) Mr. Basketball. They didn’t get that and McDonald’s All-American, they didn’t get that. Two all right things,” Lyles said with a big grin.
While those are indeed two all right things to brag about, Lyles admitted it doesn’t end the subject.
“Kinda,” he said. “Sometimes, but not all the time.”
Of course. What are friends for but to keep you humble?
This will be Hill’s first time playing in Indianapolis as an opponent since he played for the Spurs from 2008-11. He was all Indy before and after that, having spent countless hours in the church gym at the Tabernacle; playing on the Washington Park outdoor rims near what he described as project-like apartments in inner Indy; excelling at Broad Ripple High School where he had the fifth-highest scoring average (36.2 points) in Indiana history; matriculating at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) so he could stay close to his dying great-grandfather; and then spending five seasons with the Pacers before Utah traded for him last spring.
“It’s home for me. That’s where I was raised my whole life, went to high school and college there,” Hill said. “It always has a special meaning in my heart. ... My family’s still there, but I’ve moved on and I’m in a great situation right now.”
Hill was looking forward to stopping by his favorite Indy restaurant, a place called Caplinger’s where he gets the special fried fish sandwich. He’s friends with the owner, who will even open up shop on days off to accommodate the restaurant’s biggest fan.
“It’s one of the best spots I’ve ever been to as far as a fried fish sandwich,” Hill said. “It’s the only place in the city of Indianapolis or probably anywhere there that has fresh fish flown in every day from the ocean.”
Hayward’s favorite haunt?
“Steak ‘N Shake,” Hill joked of the popular Midwestern fast-food joint.
“I’m going to have to get some Donatos pizza,” Hayward said, referring to a local pizzeria chain. “That’s my spot.”
Lyles said he was going to spend his downtime with friends and family at his parents’ home.
Mack was excited that the Jazz practiced at Butler. He had some catching up to do with former coaches and friends at Hinkle Fieldhouse. He’s bummed that he won’t be able to play because of his sprained ankle — after missing a chance to play in Indiana because of his trade to Utah — but the point guard is optimistic he’ll get that chance again in the future.
As for being traded from the Pacers last spring — a move that has greatly benefited the Jazz and his career — Hill would prefer to not talk about it.
“Indy’s just another city right now,” Hill said. “Just another game.”
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Hill didn’t elaborate on the trade or any bitterness toward the Pacers, but he did change his tune about Indianapolis just being another city to him.
“That’s always home for me,” Hill said. “I grew up there my whole life. My family’s there. It’s never weird. I think it’s going to be fun.”
Though their Indy experiences were different than his — we’ll let them decide whose was better — Hill has three Utah teammates who feel the same way about Monday night’s game in a place that will always be home to some degree.