Several things catch your eye as you walk into Marquette High School's Scholl Center during boys basketball practice, and no, I'm not referring to the court, though that also has a new look.
There's 6-foot-8 Adeleke Solanke from Nigeria, 6-8 Jasmin Biberovic from Macedonia and the 6-8 assistant coach with the two NBA championship rings.
Each one is a story, but I'll start with the one named Cliff Levingston. How exactly did the former Bull wind up with the Blazers? The story's not as unlikely as you might think.
Levingston has lived in Michigan City for six years. The coach of the Gary Steelheads -- remember them? -- in 2007, he later spent time in Europe. Most recently, he started GoodNews Basketball, providing individual instruction for kids from elementary school up to the pros.
"I was watching ball games and saw some lacking in the understanding of the fundamentals of basketball," Levingston said.
He went to Michigan City High School three times to offer his services to run some feeder programs but was told no.
"They said they had it under control," Levingston said. "Three different ways."
He wasn't even aware Marquette existed until a friend, whose son (Dion Campbell) played for the Blazers, mentioned the school and coach Donovan Garletts. The two spoke back in the early spring, and the next day, Levingston was at the school setting up camps. He also serves as a volunteer consultant-coach with the high school team, providing invaluable expertise to the Blazers' big men.
"He's absolutely unbelievable with the kids," Garletts said. "A guy of his caliber, where he's been, what he's done, coached all over, played all over the world, for him to be able to break the game down and actually teach kids is a really interesting concept.
"Most people who are really good at something aren't the best teachers. He's got an absolutely huge heart. He never misses a thing unless he's out of town. He's so willing to help in every facet of the program."
Though he's still not sure why M.C. wasn't interested, Levingston's thrilled to be at Marquette, a Catholic school with an enrollment of 190.
"It's a great situation," he said. "They've got a 100 percent graduation rate of kids going to college. That's what parents are looking for. It's easier for me to send a kid to college who's got the (good) SAT (scores) and GPA. That's what schools are looking for, somebody they don't have to baby-sit. I'm just here to help, to add a little more credibility to the team."
With the arrival of Solanke, Beborovic and 6-6 freshman Ryan Fazekas, college coaches were beating down the gym doors over the summer during open sessions. Levingston expects it to be just the tip of the iceberg.
"People are going to start finding Marquette," he said. "Everybody thinks we're in Michigan. It's like we're forgotten. I tell everybody (Michigan City)'s a hotbed. People don't understand how much untapped talent there is up here. But by the time they get to high school, it's almost too late. You've got to catch them early, sixth, seventh and eighth grade."
At the age of 50, Levingston lives comfortably thanks to basketball. Money's no issue for him. He just wants to help others pursue their passion like he did.
"I never thought in a 1,000 years that I'd coach, teach," Levingston said. "But for someone with a wealth of knowledge to sit on the sidelines and not pass it on would be a shame. Basketball's done so much for me. I want to see the game keep evolving. You try to do the right things, good things happen to you."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org