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IPFW
at Notre Dame
When: 7 p.m. today
TV/Radio: ESPNU, 1380 AM
Floridians
Pierre Bland
6-foot-2 junior, guard
Home: Jacksonville, Fla.
Stats: 1.9 ppg., 3.5 rpg., 2.2 apg.
Steve Forbes
6-foot-9 junior, forward
Home: Clermont, Fla.
Stats: Redshirted
Frank Gaines
6-foot-4 senior, guard
Home: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Stats: 20 ppg., 4.3 rpg.
Herbert Graham
6-foot-4 freshman, guard
Home: North Miami Beach, Fla.
Stats: 7 ppg., 2 rpg.
Kevin Harden
6-foot-2 junior guard
Home: Orlando, Fla.
Stats: 6.1 ppg., 4.9 rpg., 1.2 apg.
Luis Jacobo
6-foot-5 junior forward
Home: Sanford, Fla.
Stats: 8.4 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 1.1 apg.

Cold reality for Mastodons from the Sunshine State

– Shortly after IPFW forward Steve Forbes wiped the sleep from his eyes, walked through his apartment door and approached his car for a morning class not long ago, he was quite perplexed with what he saw.

There was something white that covered the front and rear windshields, like sifted flour. Weird thing was, it was cold, too. And because it wasn’t there when he parked his car the evening before, it had mysteriously appeared overnight.

“I was freaked out,” said Forbes, who quickly rang up IPFW assistant coach Jon Coffman. “I didn’t know what to do. I was going to be late for class, and I was like, ‘Coach, help me.’ He said, ‘You know that thing in your car with the squiggly lines?’ He said, ‘Use it.’ ”

Living most of his life in Clermont, Fla., Forbes never encountered frost; never had to operate a car’s defrost system; and, until recently, never saw snow fall from the sky.

“I had to brush snow off the car,” Forbes said with a bit of childlike wonder. “That was a first.”

Forbes, a gregarious 6-foot-9, 320-pound redshirt, is among the six IPFW players who are from the Sunshine State. He joins fellow Floridians Frank Gaines, Herbert Graham, Pierre Bland, Luis Jacobo and Kevin Harden.

The most notable, of course, is Gaines, the 6-4 senior guard who has made his mark as one of the school’s all-time greats.

Gaines was plucked out of Boyd Anderson High School in Fort Lauderdale and is in the final season of a successful four-year career with the Mastodons. Last year he was named to the All-Summit League first team, was a preseason first-team pick this season, and averages 20 points per game.

“I wanted to get away from home, I guess,” Gaines said. “I had never been away from Florida. I wanted someplace to get a new experience, and I had never been to Indiana before.”

A “buddy of a buddy” is how Jasick describes the tip on the young Gaines, who has whetted the recruiting appetite for Florida talent. And with the addition of former Stetson assistant Coffman, the IPFW-to-Florida connection has strengthened.

Because IPFW, still in its infancy stages of Division I basketball that began in 2001, has to recruit players in the midst of Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame, Butler, Ball State and Indiana State territory – not to mention the rest of the Big Ten and Mid-American Conference – players must be mined elsewhere.

Since Gaines was solid gold, surely other nuggets went unnoticed in Florida.

“When we got Frank … that opened some doors,” Jasick said. “People follow it; people see it. But also, we have recruited junior colleges for a long time. Florida is one of the better junior college leagues, so we put a lot of time in down there.

“Florida’s a hard place to get to, and there are a lot of players and not a ton of competition in terms of geographically. In Indiana, it’s really easy for Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky schools to get here and recruit, among many others. Florida, you’ve got to make a very pointed effort to get there because there are no states on those three bordering sides.

“The other thing about Florida is there aren’t many mid-level schools,” Jasick said. “You’ve got a few high-majors; you’ve got a few low-majors; but there aren’t many mid-level schools.”

Graham, a redshirt freshman, was next to follow. This season has brought a rush from the junior colleges in Forbes, Jacobo, Bland and Harden. Bland has started five times, while Jacobo and Harden have started all 11 games.

“It’s a little surprising to me,” said Bland, from Jacksonville. “I never thought I would come up to Indiana.”

He had heard of Gaines. And he had played junior college ball against Harden, Jacobo and Forbes.

“When I got up here and I saw who it was, I thought, wow, these are a lot of familiar faces,” Bland said. “If they’re up here, it’s got to be a pretty good team, and a pretty good situation.”

Because he lived in Maryland as a youngster, Bland had seen snow before. He had an idea what to expect from an Indiana winter.

Gaines, on the other hand, said the initial move north was a culture shock.

“I had to buy everything new,” he said. “I didn’t have anything. I came up here with one jacket, and my mom came up and had to buy me a lot of stuff.”

Forbes is still learning.

“I’ve never been in snow,” he said. “I was wondering how I was going to drive and get around.”

stwarden@jg.net

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