Saturday, June 23, 2018
Colleges

Indiana hoops transplant perfectly at home in Tampa

TAMPA — Back home in Indiana, he was basketball royalty. He played in his first league at age 2. He lived — and loved — the hardwood life. He was accustomed to performing before more than 10,000 fans for his big games.

Pat Bacon capped his storied prep career by being named Marion County Player of the Year by the Indianapolis Star in 2015, beating out players who were destined for UCLA and Virginia.

So how did this Hoosier land at the University of Tampa?

"I just loved it down here and it was the best place for me," said Bacon, a 6-foot junior guard who is on the verge of hitting 1,000 points for his UT career. "I knew I could come down and make an impact."

Bacon has done just that.

Due to his smallish stature — and his shooting guard/small forward role at Indianapolis Lawrence North High School — Bacon got minimal looks from Division I-A programs. He understood. But he has found a home with the Spartans in the Sunshine State Conference.

Bacon, while primarily playing point guard this season, is averaging 23.1 points per game. Against Alabama-Huntsville, he had a season-high 30 points, while going 18-for-18 from the free-throw line, where he shoots 82.6 percent.

"Indianapolis has always produced a lot of good guards and Pat is certainly one of them," Spartans coach Richard Schmidt said. "I don’t really call Pat a shooter. He’s a scorer. He handles the ball, penetrates, gets to the basket and gets to the free-throw line.

"We feel very fortunate to have gotten him. Our assistant coach (Justin Pecka) had a connection up there and we stayed with him. We just liked the way he plays. Such a competitor. One way or another, he finds a way to get it done and he just loves basketball."

It’s a passion Bacon inherited from his father, who also played high school basketball in Indianapolis. Before long, though, Bacon was playing hoops and working out on his own, needing no extra push.

"My dad always keeps me grounded and humbles me," Bacon said. "He always tells me there are ways I can get better. So I’ve always had that inner drive. I wasn’t into video games or playing with toys. It was pretty much all basketball for me.

"Where I’m from, I think that helped, too. The average basketball player there can knock you off. You can go out to the park and find a good player. Some states, it’s hard to find (good competition at) an open gym. So that level of competition obviously helped me get better."

Or as Schmidt said, "Player of the Year in Indianapolis? That’s a pretty big deal."

As a prep senior, Bacon captured every award imaginable — except the one he really cherished.

He wasn’t among the 15 players selected for the Indiana All-Stars — the team that faces the Kentucky All-Stars in the annual border state grudge match — and was shocked to learn that news on the final cut.

At Lawrence North, the program’s 20 Indiana All-Star products have photos on the gymnasium wall.

"Making that team is the only way you get on that wall, so it was disappointing," Bacon said. "At the same time, it was very motivating. If there are days when I feel lazy or I’m not working as hard as I should, I think about that.

"I’m not mad. I’m not going to let it hold me back. But I do use it for motivation. I think I should’ve been there and I want to be sure moving forward that I give absolute maximum effort in everything I do."

The Spartans are the beneficiary of Bacon’s effort and basketball savvy.

Bacon meanwhile, is the beneficiary of a new lifestyle.

"Basketball season is (usually) when you put on your coat or your sweats," said Bacon, who is majoring in Human Performance and eventually wants to become a college basketball coach. "Now it’s shorts. The sun is always shining. Back home, it’s probably snowing.

"It’s different here in Tampa, no doubt. But I love the school. I’m away from home for the first time and meeting lots of new people. And I’m contributing to my basketball team. That’s all I ever wanted and all I can ask for."

 
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