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INDIANAPOLIS — West Lafayette, Indiana, is normally an hour’s drive from the state capital. But during the NBA Summer League, that distance is bridged by basketball.

Purdue University is located in West Lafayette, and that’s where both Lance Jones and Dakota Mathias played basketball in the NCAA league. Now both players are part of the Indiana Pacers’ 2024 Summer League roster and just completed a five-day training camp before the games in Las Vegas. They both come from the same place and have similar goals.

“The goal is to get back to the NBA,” said Mathias, who finished his career at Purdue in 2018. He has NBA experience with the Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers. Jones has similar hopes. “That I belong,” he said of what he hopes to show.

Jones only finished his college career in April. A few weeks ago, he went through a pre-draft workout for the Pacers and spoke about his love for the state of Indiana. Now he’s staying in the state to take his first steps into professional basketball.

The 23-year-old spent the days of the NBA Draft in West Lafayette, where he watched his college teammate Zach Edey get selected ninth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies. The next day, Jones’ agent called and told him he had the opportunity to join the Pacers.

“I’m just happy to be back here,” he said of Indianapolis. After training with the Blue and Gold, he wasn’t sure if he would get another chance with the franchise. But he got one and is trying to make the most of it.

Mathias is one of the oldest players on the summer league team. He has been playing professionally for half a decade now and his three-point shooting is impressive. He has settled in easily in Indiana: In 2019, the winger/guard signed with the Dallas Mavericks for training camp. At the time, current Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle was in charge in Dallas and his staff came from the Mavericks. Mathias knows them well.

“Of course, I live just around the corner, I know the faces of both players and the organization. It’s nice to be a part of it,” said Mathias about his chance to play in the summer league.

As a veteran, Mathias hopes to show some of his dribbling gameplay at Indiana. He knows where to be on the court, which is important on a young team. He should be a calming presence for the Pacers this summer.

Mathias has averaged 3.9 points per game in 14 NBA appearances. In a game against the Atlanta Hawks in 2021, he scored a career-high 14 points and reached double-digit points twice.

“Style of play. Read and react. Kind of free-flowing, use your IQ,” he said of the Pacers’ style and why it’s a good fit for him as he works his way back into the NBA.

Although Mathias and Jones are more than five years apart in age – Mathias turns 29 on Thursday – they share a bond at Purdue. Both players competed in NCAA tournaments with the Boilermakers and can thank the program for making them better players.

Jones shared that his defensive mindset was picked up from Purdue and Mathias is a fan of head coach Matt Painter. While the two current Pacers didn’t know each other too well before that experience, they do now.

“Not so much,” Jones said of his familiarity with Mathias. “Of course I know who he was. I’m meeting him for the first time. It’s nice to be here with a fellow Boilermaker team member.”

Mathias made a similar comment. “Everyone who was at Purdue knows each other … I’m glad he was a Boilermaker this year,” he said. Purdue reached the NCAA title game that season, but lost to Connecticut.

Tristen Newton was a starting guard for that UConn team and was drafted 49th overall by Indiana last month. He’s also part of the summer league group, though he and Jones haven’t spoken much about that game. The Boilermakers’ run before that loss was impressive.

“It was great,” Mathias said of watching his former team reach the championship game. “I was really proud of them.”

Their relationship will grow in the coming week as they play together. Jones and Mathias have only known each other for a few days, but they hope their path from Purdue can help them get to the NBA.