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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

From Sabonis to Sneva, plenty of Spokane connections in ‘Bubbleville’ Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS – Before Domantas Sabonis’ face was emblazoned on banners in downtown Indianapolis and his hot-selling jersey was among the most popular in the Midwest city, his high motor and cheery disposition were displayed in Spokane.

The Indiana Pacers’ two-time All-Star forward developed his crafty inside game at Gonzaga for two years before an early departure for the NBA.

He hails from Lithuania, the son of ex-Portland Trail Blazer center Arvydas Sabonis. He played his college basketball in the Inland Northwest, more than 1,500 miles from basketball-rich Indiana.

But the Hoosier State proudly claims the 24-year-old Sabonis, whose home arena, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, is one of the four primary NCAA Tournament venues in Indianapolis’ “Bubbleville” format.

Three days after No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga (28-0) faces No. 5 seed Creighton (22-8) on Sunday in the Sweet 16 up the road at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, Sabonis will face a Miami Heat team that features another former Gonzaga big man, Kelly Olynyk.

Because of Sabonis, Pacers fans became even more familiar with Gonzaga, a team many expect to win its first national title when the tournament concludes on April 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts.

Between Sabonis’ status as the Pacers’ lone All-Star and his alma mater’s early dominance in the city’s NCAA Tournament, there’s plenty of Gonzaga flavor in Indy.

“We love Sabonis,” said Kala Flynn, a Pacers fan and Indianapolis resident. “He is good and just seems like a good guy, too.”

A Sabonis sign was prominently displayed behind the counter of Collector’s Den, a downtown mall, near a pair of framed autographed Sabonis photos that ran for $300 each.

At the Indiana Pacers team store down the street from the mall and inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a store employee said Sabonis’ No. 11 jersey is the most consistent seller.

He isn’t the only Spokane sports connection to Indianapolis.

Indianapolis, the birth of IndyCar and the famous Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, features Spokane’s Tom Sneva at the Indianpolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.

Sneva, the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier at Indianapolis, won the 1983 edition of the Indy 500.

The Lewis and Clark High School and Eastern Washington University graduate was displayed in multiple areas of the museum, located on the infield of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sneva’s white, Texaco-sponsored car he won the 1983 Indy 500 with was displayed in the museum. His face was also etched into the Indy 500 trophy, along with the race’s other winners.

Sneva, who is now 73, was described in his Hall of Fame bio as a mixture of “talent, bravado, personality and unpredictability” that made him one of IndyCar racing’s most entertaining performers for the better part of two decades.

The popular NCAA Hall of Champions Museum in Indianapolis has a mission to display the NCAA’s more than 1,400 member institutions in different capacities, including the five in the Spokane area (Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, Washington State, Idaho and Whitworth).

The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in the suburb of New Castle features one former Gonzaga Bulldog in Maria Stack, the state of Indiana’s Ms. Basketball in 1980.

Stack starred at nearby Columbus East (Ind.) High School before playing at San Diego State and then her final year at Gonzaga in the 1984-1985 season, in which she produced one of the most well-rounded seasons in program history.

She scored a school-record 707 points as a senior and totaled 203 assists on her way to the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, given to the nation’s top women’s basketball player shorter than 5 feet 8 inches tall.

Stack, 59, now works in human resources at a company 30 minutes outside Indianapolis, where she says she often brags about the successful men’s and women’s basketball programs of her alma mater.

“Everybody I have talked to this year has been so impressed with the men’s team this year,” Stack said. “And this is an area that has the (University of Indiana) Hoosiers, and Kentucky isn’t too far away.”

Former Washington State receiver Dezmon Patmon is currently on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster, but it’s a Spokane County resident and native who is one of the franchise’s few No. 1 overall draft picks.

Before the Colts drafted such star quarterbacks as Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall draft picks, they went with Washington Huskies defensive tackle Steve Emtman, a former Cheney High star.

Emtman, the nation’s best defensive lineman at 6-4, 295 pounds during his time at Washington, lasted just six NFL seasons because of a series of injuries.

Former Eastern Washington basketball star Rodney Stuckey, a first-round pick, signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Indiana Pacers in 2015 before retiring.

Former Lewis and Clark High star Briann January played eight seasons for Indiana Fever of the WNBA, where she was a 2014 All-Star and four-time All-Defensive Team selection. 

 Chanelle Molina, a former standout Washington State point guard, is currently a rookie on the roster of the Fever.

Correction: The print version of this story omitted January’s time with the Indiana Fever but was added to the online edition.