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Sen. Maria Cantwell saw Indiana’s dominance growing up in Indianapolis. She believes Gonzaga could be next

UPDATED: Sun., April 4, 2021

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chats with Darryl Lockett, executive director of the Kennedy King Memorial Initiative, as she visits the Landmark for Peace Memorial at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Sunday in Indianapolis.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chats with Darryl Lockett, executive director of the Kennedy King Memorial Initiative, as she visits the Landmark for Peace Memorial at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Sunday in Indianapolis. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

INDIANAPOLIS – Senator Maria Cantwell was engulfed in basketball culture before she was old enough to make the distinction between Republican and Democrat.

Before moving to Seattle in 1984 to work on Alan Cranston’s presidential campaign and becoming a fixture in Washington politics, Cantwell was born and raised in the Hoosier State.

A graduate of Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis, Cantwell was a teenager when nearby Indiana University secured a perfect 32-0 record in 1976, a feat that hasn’t been matched since.

Her mother, Rose Cantwell, played Indiana high school basketball in the 1940s.

Top-ranked and undefeated Gonzaga may join the Hoosiers’ elite fraternity if it can dispatch No. 2 Baylor on Monday in the NCAA national title game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Cantwell and her Gonzaga student nephews will be in attendance inside the cavernous venue, a short trip from her childhood home.

“That’s why I’m such a big Gonzaga fan,” said Cantwell, a Democrat and Miami University (Ohio) graduate. “Because when I grew up, basketball was the thing in Indiana. And I saw what it took to have a great program. I see that now with what is going on at Gonzaga.”

Cantwell was well aware of Indiana’s 1981 national championship under Bobby Knight and, before the Hoosiers won another national title in 1987, Cantwell said she would often remind other politicians who had the most talented NCAA Tournament team.

Now, decades removed from her Indiana residence, Cantwell, 62, is all-in on Washington teams.

But Indiana, which still has a big piece of her heart, helped mold her basketball fandom.

“It’s a cultural thing here,” she said. “Even our high school basketball tournaments are on TV.”

While Indiana is a hoops-rich state drenched in tradition, Cantwell believes a combination of Gonzaga’s success and Spokane’s Hoopfest is helping Washington develop a healthy basketball reputation, too.

“I wish people from Indiana could see the largest 3-on-3 tournament in the world,” she said.

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