TERRE HAUTE —
The Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic begins today at Terre Haute North. One would be hard-pressed to find a local event that is more beloved by a wider cross-section of sports fans and non-sports fans alike.
To see why the Classic is so beloved, all one has to do is look at Indiana State’s men’s basketball roster to get a feel for the quality of play in the Classic field on a year-to-year basis.
Four Pizza Hut Classic alums form an integral part of ISU’s 9-2 team. Jake Odum (Terre Haute South), Justin Gant (Terre Haute North), Lucas Eitel (Marshall) and R.J. Mahurin (Rockville) all became Wabash Valley household names in the Classic.
Made their names? That’s under-stating it just a tad. Each of them is part of the lore of the 12-year-old tournament. As are former Sycamores Logan Whitman (Northview), Jake Kelly (Marshall), Logan Eitel (Marshall) and Harry Marshall (Owen Valley). As is future Sycamore Rhett Smith (Sullivan), among many others.
It’s why I thought it would be fun to get all four of the current Pizza Hut Classic ISU players together to see who they believe had the greatest Pizza Hut Classic legacy among the four of them. All four can make a case, and given the camaraderie they have for one another, I was expecting the smack-talk to flow in the Q&A format.
Todd Golden: Ding, ding, ding!
Jake Odum: Pretty much, we’re going to goof around and be hysterical. He’s [R.J. Mahurin] going to be the guy who’s like, ‘I got all the stats’. And we all have championships.
TG: You just got it started.
JO: [Talking to Mahurin] You’ll be LeBron. [Talking to Justin Gant] You’re Dirk [Nowitzki].
Justin Gant: I’m Dirk?
R.J. Mahurin: I want to be Dirk.
JO: You didn’t win [a championship] though.
RM: Oh yeah.
TG: Let’s throw everyone’s case out there. R.J.’s the all-time leading scorer [292 points] and he has the two best scoring games in Pizza Hut Classic history [40 and 38-point efforts in 2007]. Lucas has a title [Marshall won in 2008], appeared in another championship game, losing to Jake’s South team , and is a three-time All-Pizza Hut player. Jake has a title and beat Lucas in a championship game. Justin appeared in the most championship games among the four of you [three], but lost head-to-head to Lucas [in 2008]. North won it last year and Justin is also a three-time All-Pizza Hut player.
Lucas Eitel: I beat all of three of you [in 2008].
JO: I beat all three of you too [in 2007].
JG: Lucas’s team smacked us pretty bad [Marshall beat North 64-48 in the 2008 championship game]. I really don’t have anything to say about that.
LE: My senior year, I smacked all three of them.
TG: Yeah, I’ve got to start with Lucas, he’s got a little bit of a claim …
JO: Lucas has probably got it, but I don’t know if it counts. You only give him half-credit because he’s got a twin [Logan Eitel, also a three-time All-Pizza Hut player].
TG: Lucas, when you look back at your time in the Pizza Hut Classic, you played against all of these guys, what’s your recollection of that?
LE: The atmosphere was always great. I remember my senior year, it was packed every game. That was my favorite time of the year. I played with these guys over the summers and to go head-to-head with their schools was a lot of fun.
TG: You and Logan committed right after the 2008 championship. How much does that championship mean to your being at ISU at all?
LE: If we wouldn’t have won it, I doubt they would have wanted us to go. That’s when they really offered us to walk-on.
JG: You’re welcome.
LE: Yeah thanks. Under the table deal there.
TG: R.J., you have the records and you had good teams at Rockville, but couldn’t push it over the hump to get the team honors.
RM: I always had good games individually, but we could never get it done [as a team]. These guys were all on great teams. Lucas got us with a floater at the buzzer [in 2008] and Jake and his brother [Zach, all-Pizza Hut Classic in 2007 for South] got us the year we made the deep run [to the semifinals]. South dunked it on us, like, seven times. The records are nice to have, but I’d rather have a championship.
TG: Your dad and brother’s team [Rockville coach Dave Mahurin and Lane Mahurin], they’re a team that some think could make a run this year.
RM: Yeah. They’re deep. Lane’s playing well. I think they have just as good a chance as anybody.
TG: Jake, I’m not making any excuses for you, but you were in a different role than these other guys. You can’t pile up numbers when you’re dishing it to John Michael Jarvis, your brother, and everyone else at South. What are your memories of playing in the tournament?
JO: My sophomore year, it was the first game I ever got to play in against Bethesda Christian. That was a good memory to have. Junior year was fun. My brother and I won against those guys [Marshall]. It stunk senior year losing to them. But it was good to play against these guys. That’s what I looked forward to. You get the smack-talk talking in the summer when you played against them. Pizza Hut is where everyone ends up in the same gym.
TG: Justin, you’re a little bit younger, but it seems unusual for North not to be in the championship, given that they were there the last three years. Winning it last year, after the championship losses the two years before that, had to be satisfying, but what are your memories?
JG: It was fun. Fans of every team were there. It was always packed. I thought it was cool because you got to play against some small schools and bigger schools. It was bragging rights for all of the local teams. If you win, you got the bragging rights for that year. Last year, I got my 1,000th point in the Pizza Hut, so that’s always a good thing to have …
JO: What about the one time [2009 championship game] you guys lost to Sullivan? [laughter]
TG: You know it’s not fair that [Sullivan and ISU recruit] Rhett Smith isn’t here. He could beat all of you guys if Sullivan wins it this year.
LE: If he does, I guarantee we’ll have this same talk next year. I’ll have to bring Logan back.