Sometimes, the league a high school player competes in doesn't matter. The biggest star in Indiana State history — Larry Bird — didn't knock heads with the stars of Indianapolis or the then-powerful North Central Conference schools, but he was great anyway.
But sometimes? The league a high school player competes in can give them an edge a player in a lesser conference doesn't have the opportunity to have.
That's what Jake LaRavia, late of Lawrence Central in the dominant Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, is hoping for as he transitions into life as a college basketball player for Indiana State.
"The pace [in college] is different and I'm getting used to that, but I think Lawrence Central prepared me for what to expect in the weight room, that hasn't changed much, and the way Indiana State plays is the same as my high school played," LaRavia said. "You want to be conditioned enough to go down-and-forth, stay upright and play how you're capable for the whole game."
LaRavia is one of two players from the MIC that ISU has on its roster for the 2019-20 season. Guard Jared Hankins played at the rival school of LaRavia's — Lawrence North — but Hankins has not been practicing due to a bad back and was not made available for this story.
ISU hasn't had many players from the MIC, or Indianapolis generally, on its roster since the mega-conference was formed in the 1990s. However, the last MIC player ISU had was extremely influential — Terre Haute South's Jake Odum — who played in the MIC before the Terre Haute schools were shuffled out in the early 2010s. Odum led ISU to four-straight winning seasons and a NCAA Tournament berth from 2011-14.
Also on the 2011 NCAA Tournament team was Jake Kelly. The Marshall, Ill. native finished his high school career at Carmel after starting it at Marshall. Kelly had a stop at Iowa before he played two years for the Sycamores.
A more recent player — Khristian Smith — didn't play in the MIC, though his high school, Pike, has since joined the conference. Pike was competitive against MIC schools when Smith played for the Red Devils and they were a part of Conference Indiana. Smith is in ISU's 1,000-point club and was the 2014 Missouri Valley Conference Sixth Man of the Year.
As those players did, LaRavia knows the value of going against difficult competition on a week-to-week basis.
"It physically and mentally prepares you to play at the next level regardless of where you go. When you're playing against other high-major people? Whether it's Trayce [Jackson-Davis, now at Indiana] from Center Grove or John-Michael [Mulloy, now at Butler] from Carmel, every night is going to be a tough matchup. There's no days off in the MIC and there's no days off in college," LaRavia said.
ISU coach Greg Lansing loves LaRavia's game, but wants to see him realize his potential on both ends of the floor. He's not worried about LaRavia's offense, but college-level defense is hard for any high school player to grow accustomed to. This is all part of Lansing's focus on defense for every player on the ISU roster.
"Young guys have a tendency to get upright and out of stance. They get to be hopping around a bit. They have to stay in a stance and be alert at all times. Jake will have to keep the ball in front of him and that will really help us," Lansing said.
LaRavia was a late bloomer for Lawrence Central, one of the reasons why ISU was able to bring him into the fold after he originally committed to SIU-Edwardsville. LaRavia rose to Indiana All-Star status after he averaged 17.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.3 steals for the 22-4 Bears, who knocked off two other MIC foes (North Central, Warren Central) en route to a sectional championship before yet another MIC school — Ben Davis — ended the Bears' season in the regional.
LaRavia is listed 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds. He can, and does, get involved in action under the basket, but his skills translate to being a stretch forward. Again, however, Lansing drives home the point that LaRavia has to be valuable on both ends of the floor.
"He's a 6-8 guard. He'll be a mismatch nightmare [on the offensive end]. He's got a variety of skills. He's very versatile offensively, especially, and is a uniquely talented kid. What it boil down to for him is where you play him defensively?" said Lansing, who was then asked where that would be. "In our league, he can guard forwards, but he'd have a really hard time with combo guards and smaller guards, and he hasn't had to play defense at this level."
LaRavia is also concentrated on improving his defense to get ready for his maiden collegiate voyage. He's confident it will be smooth sailing.
"The coaches have me varying between the three and the four spot, mostly playing the guard spot. They put me wherever. Whether in the post or the wing, they want me to score and make plays. Rebounding and defense is a big part of what they want. They expect a lot from me ... and I'm prepared for it," LaRavia said.
• Odum in the fold — Odum has played overseas in Greece, Germany, Turkey and Russia since his ISU career ended in 2014, but he's back home with the Sycamores for the 2019-20 season.
Odum has been working with the team throughout the offseason. He is considered a volunteer assistant and has been given a title by Lansing.
"He's the assistant in charge of player development. Jake and I have had many conversations over the years since he's been playing. I didn't think his heart was in it as much last year, but he was in some difficult situations," Lansing said. "This year? He's always around. He loves being around the guys and talking to them. He likes this group and we tried to find a position for him. Anyway we can have a guy like him around? It's a big plus for us."