NEW CASTLE — Kellen Dunham has played high school and college basketball in front of hometown fans for his hometown teams.
On Saturday, for the first time, he got to play professional basketball for those local fans for a new hometown professional team.
Dunham is the local attraction for the Pendleton Legends, one of four teams in the newly founded Hoosier Hardwood Basketball Association professional basketball league.
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Last weekend, league teams from Pendleton, New Castle, Terre Haute and Bedford began playing exhibition games. The league is hopeful to begin regular-season play in March.
Pendleton beat New Castle in Saturday’s exhibition played at New Castle Middle School’s Jake Pasman Gym, 168-122.
Former Indiana University All-American and 11-year NBA veteran Kent Benson and former Pendleton resident Bob Petty partnered to create the league that has had tryouts and combines prior to beginning exhibition games.
“It’s amazing some of the work that Bob and Kent have put together to get this so organized, from the semi-pro status to professional status, we have a lot of talent here,” Dunham said. “It’s really exciting, looking team to team and seeing all the talent.”
Benson said there are a dozen former Indiana All-Stars in the league along with five former NBA G-League players and 28 players that have had NCAA Division I experience.
With the amount of former G-League, overseas professionals and Division I players, the league recently was able to get status changed from a semi-professional league to a professional league.
Dunham fits into all of those categories mentioned.
An Indiana All-Star and state leading scorer for Pendleton Heights High School and later a star for Butler University, Dunham played in the NBA Summer League for the Memphis Grizzlies, and played in the NBA G-League with the Capital City Go-Go, as well as a stint in a professional league overseas.
He’s delighted to have the opportunity to play professionally for a team out of his hometown, as well as give back to the community.
Along with playing basketball, the league wants its players to be active within their communities, doing things such as reading to children in libraries, visiting schools (when it is permitted again) to talk to students, have lunch with them, and put on dunk and shooting displays for physical education classes.
On Saturday, the game with the pros was preceded by a youth league exhibition game. There are also slam dunk and 3-point contests prior to games.
“On a personal level, I enjoy being able to connect with some of the kids in a junior game before our games,” Dunham said. “They come and play in front of us, and we can talk to them at halftime, and that means a lot, too. Every one of us was that kid at one point in our life. Just being able to give back, inspire them, entertain them and hopefully give them some coaching is always a cool platform, as well.”
Benson said he was happy with Saturday’s turnout in New Castle of what he estimated as more than 80 fans, considering playing in a pandemic and with an impending snowstorm.
He added he had great responses from fans in Terre Haute, too, from another one of the league’s exhibition games.
“People came up and thanked us for bringing this to their city,” Benson said. “It’s fun to watch basketball and guys that are having fun, enjoying the game.
“Bob Petty and I have worked hard to bring the great talent we’ve been able to bring and the quality of character, and we’re just going through tryouts and exhibition season.”
Dunham showed little rust in the shooting prowess that he displayed during his career as an Arabian, Bulldog and pro.
He won the 3-point contest (hitting 8-of-10 attempts) and had seven treys and 33 points in the exhibition game, though he took a backseat as star of the game from teammate Eugene German, who was an Indiana All-Star at 21st Century in Gary, where he led the state in scoring two years in a row, and later at Northern Illinois University.
German scored 60 points, including 12 3-pointers in the game.
“It was a lot of fun,” Dunham added. “We came after them with all we had. It was exciting to see performances like Eugene German had, and I thought Tyler Smith-Johnson (who played high school ball at Anderson Prep Academy) played really well and I thought Devonte (Smith, who was formerly with Anderson University) played really well, too. We added Travis Carter, who was an Indiana All-Star (at Concord High School), and it gave us a little experience.
“It was a lot of fun getting to play in front of a crowd again in a local environment.”
Like the NBA, games are 48 minutes, with four 12-minute quarters.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Dunham said about being back in basketball shape for the new league. “I’ve recently decided that this is going to be my basketball job essentially with the HHBA. I need to stay in shape so we’re presenting our best selves for 48 minutes. Overall I felt good, thankful to get the shots I did and thankful to be part of such an awesome group of guys. All of them really want to maximize this opportunity to grow as teammates have an impact on the community and go for the championship.”
The next scheduled exhibition for the Pendleton Legends is slated for Feb. 13 at a site yet to be determined. Tickets for the game cost $10 and can be bought at the door and in advance online at www.mvpresults.com/pendleton.