HAMMOND — There were balloons, a cake and about 90 well-wishers at the Hammond Buffalo Wild Wings on Saturday night.

But there was a very happy young man in the middle of the celebration.

Jermaine Couisnard, a 2017 E.C. Central grad, announced that he will continue his basketball career at the University of South Carolina.

He played on the Indiana All-Star team last June, after a remarkable high school career.

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 27.5 points, 4.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game in the 2016-17 season for the sectional champion Cardinals.

But needing to brush up his academic studies, he went the prep school route and is currently playing at Montverde Academy in Florida, one of the elite prep schools in the United States.

"I had to push more, basketball and academics," Couisnard said on Saturday night. "I've been grinding every day. It is a very strict school, you have to follow the rules. There's a two-hour study hall every night."

In games this year for Montverde, Couisnard is averaging 24 points per game with six rebounds and four assists per game, which brought a lot of college scouts out to watch him play.

He had offers from Bradley, Illinois, Louisville, UMass and Virginia Tech. But playing for coach Frank Martin in the Southeastern Conference was magnetic for the powerful, scoring machine from East Chicago.

"There were some bigger schools coming around before I made my decision," said Couisnard, who visited Kansas last year during his senior season at E.C. "That made it kind of hard. But coach Martin wants to make me a better person, a better basketball player. He wants to prepare me for the rest of my life.

"I love the campus there, the people there and I'm excited to get there next year."

Couisnard flew home on Friday so he could make his announcement in front of friends and family.

"I haven't been home in a long time," he said. "I wanted to be around the people who've loved me and supported me through all the years."

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Sports reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.