James Naismith, basketball’s creator, said in 1936, “Basketball really had its beginnings in Indiana, which remains today the center of the sport.”
Those words still ring true.
The sport may have been born in Massachusetts, but it came of age in Indiana — basketball’s breadbasket.
The Gators have an Indiana connection. Redshirt senior Lily Svete hails from the South Bend, Ind.
Growing up so close to Notre Dame — her father, Lee, is the Associate Vice President for the school’s Division of Student Affairs — she was naturally drawn to the Fighting Irish and their basketball teams at a young age.
“We went (to basketball games) all the time,” Svete said. “All the time. I went to so many guys games and girls games.”
Naturally, Lily and her little brother, Leo, had a hoop in their driveway.
“We’ve played since we were little,” Svete said. “My dad had us in the gym since we were like 2 years old. We were always busy shooting on Saturday mornings.”
Basketball’s presence in Indiana is palpable. Hoops adorn driveways, trees, barn doors and silos. The state is home to some of basketball’s most prominent figures.
Great shooters are aplenty in Indiana. Look no further than Larry “The Hick from French Lick” Bird and Oscar “The Big O” Robertson, who averaged 24.3 and 25.7 points per game throughout their careers, respectively.
“Everything up in Indiana is so fundamental,” Svete said. “It’s all about your shooting form. If you don’t have perfect shooting form, people don’t respect you as a shooter.
“Everybody can shoot. It’s just the culture up there.”
The lore of high school basketball in Indiana is unrivaled.
The state has 12 of the nation’s 13 largest high school gymnasiums, according to the New York Times. New Castle Fieldhouse is the largest high school basketball gym in the world, boasting a capacity of 9,325.
In 36 years, Indiana has produced 41 McDonald’s All-Americans — more than Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia, and trailing only Illinois, New York and California.
Svete excelled at Mishawaka Penn (Ind.) High. However, if a player in Indiana wants full recognition, playing AAU is a must.
“High school was serious, but AAU was always bigger,” Svete said.
“I went (to Penn High) with my point guard that I always played AAU with, Kelsey Reynolds. She plays at DePaul now.”
Svete and Reynolds bucked the trend at Penn by making the varsity team as freshmen — a rare feat at the school.
“We were really the first freshmen to play varsity,” Svete said. “We started, which was kind of a big deal.”
Being the basketball hotbed that Indiana is, Svete played against phenomenal talent.
Skylar Diggins, the third overall selection in the 2013 WNBA draft and the all-time leading scorer at Notre Dame, was one of Svete’s regular opponents.
Diggins played for Washington (Ind.) High.
“[Diggins] was in my conference,” Svete said. “We never got out of the sectional because we always played her team and got beat ... Like, we would go 19-2 and the two losses would be to Washington.”
In her senior season at Penn, Svete made the Indiana All-Star team.
“It was a select group of players,” Svete said. “Skylar was on it, Kelly Faris from UConn, Alex Bentley from Penn State.”
The all-star team spring-boarded Svete to a college career.
Earning a basketball scholarship to a Division I school was a given, but which school she wanted to attend was not as clear.
“I was getting recruited by a lot of Big 10 schools,” Svete said. “That’s where I thought I wanted to go. I really thought I wanted to go to Purdue. Northwestern was also in there. I looked at Indiana a little bit, but I never really wanted to go there. All my high school friends were going to IU. I just wanted to go someplace different.”
UF wasn’t on the radar for Svete at first, but a trip to Gainesville with her father changed that.
“Lily’s father ran the career resource center at Notre Dame, and (UF) has the No. 1 career resource center in the country,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “He had made a trip down here and we had made connections through that.”
During unofficial visits, Butler witnessed firsthand Svete’s devotion to the game.
“She’s just everything you want to coach,” Butler said. “Every time she came in on an unofficial visit, we would lose her at some point during the day – which was obviously concerning – but it was easy to find her. She had always somehow gone down to the practice court and grabbed a ball and started doing workouts.”
She is UF women’s basketball’s fourth player churned out by the Indiana basketball machine, but she will be the program’s first doctor during Butler’s tenure.
A dual-major (double major) in psychology and pre-professional biology, she’s earned a place on the SEC Academic Honor Roll her previous three seasons, as well as the 2010 Freshman Academic Honor Roll.
“Every part of her is striving for excellence,” Butler said. “She sets a standard, academically.”
There’s no doubt that the environment in which Svete was raised has played a significant role in the way she performs on and off the court.
Said Butler: “It’s real clear she’s had great home training.”
Follow Gordon Streisand on Twitter @GordonStreisand.