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Indiana has long been referred to as “Hardwood Heaven”, but for 7 young men this has truly became their reality, from playing AAU and high school games together and against one another to living the NBA dream. Each summer most of them return to Indiana (the place where it all started) to participate in the KnoxProTrain ProAm Series and give fans the respect and thanks they truly deserve. They have faced off in the backyard, on playgrounds, in state playoffs, NBA playoff games and more. In front of 10 fans and 10,000 fans. They have ended each other’s seasons and created moments they’ll remember forever. They’ve all individually fought through so much to get where they are today, but they truly are: Indy’s own Magnificent Seven (title given by Jeff Rabjohns).
At one point, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Eric Gordon, Josh McRoberts and Daequan Cook, an Ohio native now with the Miami Heat, were the starting five for the Spiece Indy Heat, a summer team coached by Mike Conley Sr. Gordon was the baby of the team being two years younger than the oldest players on that team.
“I always thought he would be in the NBA,” McRoberts said. “When you’re younger, every year is a big difference, but he was one of the best players even then. That’s when I noticed he was better than everybody else. “Even when it was Mike and Greg and Daequan and myself, E.J. would still be the best player on our team for a lot of games.”
New Orleans needs to take note of this and get that extension in the works. This team was considered the best summer league of all time by many basketball scouts, coaches and journalist.
This 7 includes: Mike Conley Jr, Greg Oden, Eric Gordon, Josh McRoberts, George Hill, Courtney Lee and Rodney Carney. All seven were selected in the NBA drafts, six of those in the first round. “I always knew we had a lot of talent here in Indy, and I always thought people kind of overlooked how much talent we had in the core group in high school and middle school,” Conley said. “Finally the last couple years, you’re starting to see the talent level we generated.”
Lawrence North High School was a high school powerhouse featuring 2 of the best high school players in the country on one squad in Greg Oden and Michael Conley, Jr. Oden was the most sought after in this group of 7, being the top pick in the 2007 draft by the Portland Trailblazers, but injury after injury has led to a largely disappointing career thus far.
Being an Indiana girl at heart I still believe he might show up for a season or 2 and not be the Jonathan Bender he is turning into. The man that helped make Oden the player is he was at LNHS as well as The Ohio State University is his teammate and long time friend and current Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley Jr. The 6ft 1 who went 4th in the same draft has shown flashes during his NBA career and has turned into quite a useful piece to the Grizzlies success.
Conley comes from an athletic family being the son of Olympic Champion turned sports agent Mike Conley, Sr this quickness and athletic ability set Conley apart from so many other players. One of the greatest high school match-ups of all time came when Oden & Conley’s Lawrence North met up with current New Orleans Hornet guard Eric Gordon’s North Central High School. This game was titled: Gordon vs. Dynamic Duo. Oden and Conley had already played in two ESPN televised games on ESPN, as did Gordon.
“I still remember that play E.J. made in that ESPN2 game,” Oden said. “It was a loose ball and it looks like Q Owens is going to get it, and E.J. came through and stole it and dunked it. I mean he DUNKED it.”
Lawrence North went on to win the game 78-59 in the first nationally televised regular-season game between two Indiana high schools in history. Oden scored 33, Gordon 27 and Conley 18. “Even though they beat us, that was pretty cool,” stated Gordon.North Central went on to Lawrence North its last loss during the Oden-Conley era. Conley was injured and didn’t play. Gordon, a sophomore, outscored Oden 32-10.
“That was a good year,” Gordon said. “We had a good start and were beating them the whole game. We had to do anything we could to Greg. We had to have four guys on Greg to try to stop him. Every time he caught the ball, I’d just run toward him.” EJ went on to say “I’m pretty sure everybody knew they were going to go to the NBA, but not this quickly.”
Anyone who read my post last week titled “To Resign or Not: That is the Question” knows I feel Eric Gordon is a total beast and one of my favorite players in the league, he is an undersized 2 guard that has the ability to play in a swing role, with exceptional scoring abilities and strengths. Rric went on to keep entertaining the local fans by becoming an Indiana Hoosier before being drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers. During the 2011 season he averaged a career-high 22.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.27 steals and 37.7 minutes in 56 games, all of which were starts.
He went on to finish the season ranked 12th in the NBA in minutes per game. EJ was recently named as a finalist for the 2012 London Olympic Games to represent the USA. Gordon played in the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey helping the team to a perfect 9-0 record en route to winning the gold medal. He averaged 8.6 points while finishing second on the team in three-pointers made (19) in international play. One could wonder of some of that talent was heightening playing such intensive games during high school?
I don’t know much about fantasy basketball, but I do know talent and this guy has it.
Big lights and even bigger pressure comes with playing for the famed LA Lakers, but Carmel High School and Duke star Josh McRoberts thinks he is up to the challenge. He was rated as the top high school player in the Class of 2005 by Scout.com Largely underused by the hometown Indiana Pacers McRoberts is one of those rough and tough players whose stats may not appear that great, but a lot of what he does can’t be measure by numbera alone. I have often been hard on Josh and his work ethic, but when he shows up he shows up. Lets see if the Lakers turn out to be his LaLa Land?
For those who say you can never go home, Indianapolis Broadripple High School and Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis former star George Hill is out to prove them wrong. Being traded to the hometown Indiana Pacers in the off-season was a dream come true for the Naptown Native. Fairly inconsistent thus far this season for the Pacers, Hill had a great game against the Raptors. He scored a season-high 22 points and posted five steals in the 95-90 win. He went 7 for 11 from the field, including 2 for 4 from downtown, and made all six of his free throws. Hill, who played 30 minutes off the bench, also chipped in with two rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot. He is averaging 13 points and shooting 55 percent from 3-point land over his last five games. Being the first player ever drafted from IUPUI G Hill has the weight of an entire university and cities on his shoulders.
Former Pike High School Star and current Houston Rockets 2/3-swing player Courtney Lee received a lot less attention than many of the other 7, but has turned into a nice role player. He owns career averages of 10.3 points (.854, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.14 steals in 148 career games with Orlando and New Jersey … a consistent shooter from beyond the arc, he also owns a career mark of .369 from 3-point range. Lee is a defensive minded player who has versatility, which goes a long way in the NBA.
Having the honor of growing up as an athlete in Indiana I know the passion and love of basketball in this state is something words can never describe, you have to be there and feel the love and passion the fans have for their players from youth leagues, AAU, high school, college and the pros. Players who have the chance to play here know the pressure that comes with it and these 7 men have showed Indiana is not just the Hoosier state, but truly is Hardwood Heaven.
RANDOM FACT: George Hill played against every member of the ‘Indy Magnificent Seven’ except for Eric Gordon who was recovering from a broken wrist during their Broad Ripple/North Central match-up.
I am going to be completely honest, before working with the KnoxProTrain Summer League I had no idea who Rodney Carney was, but I will say I was pleasantly surprised by the potential of the Golden State Warrior.