ST. JOHN | Michael Phillips was a lad in East Chicago in the early 1970s. He suffered from psoriasis on his feet. So when his middle school gym class jumped in the pool, he could not take part.
So he helped his teacher, Mickey Milausnic, hand out towels. Phillips was a bench player who didn't get much playing time. Milausnic was a middle school coach.
One day the coach told the player something that changed the player's life.
"Keep working hard young man," Milausnic said. "If you do, you will move ahead of the guys playing now. You've got talent. Just keep working and you'll get there."
In 1976 coach Milausnic's words came true. Phillips and his East Chicago Washington teammates made it to the Indiana Final Four. A painful loss to Rushville did not change the glory of their run.
And the next year, E.C.W. returned to the state championship game, losing to Carmel, 53-52. Mickey Milausnic, a long-time middle school coach, was on the bench this time.
"Coach Mickey laid the foundation for what we did," Phillips said. "He taught defense better than anyone around. He taught how to run an offense like it's supposed to be run.
"He was great. I miss him. Please tell (Lake Central coach) Dave that a lot of people in East Chicago are pulling for him."
Dave Milausnic will do what few coaches in Indiana get to do, coach in a state championship game. The list is even smaller for sons who did what their dad's did.
Dave's Lake Central Indians will play Indianapolis Tech in the Class 4A state final at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.
"We used to go to the gym on Saturday mornings," Dave Milausnic said. "We'd run the hallways. It was fun for a little kid."
Mickey passed away in 2007. He didn't get to see his son's greatest achievement. But a photograph sits on a shelf in the son's basketball office overlooking what these Indians have done.
The voice of the father can still be heard.
Covering hoops in Northwest Indiana for decades now have been a blast. But there has been a lot of pressure put on Milausnic at L.C. At a school where expectations are always high, not advancing can be a heavy burden.
Knucklehead fans don't realize the Indians play in one of the state's toughest sectionals. It takes something special to advance. Last March the Indians lost by a point to Munster in overtime in the sectional final.
"A lot of very good coaches never have an opportunity to get to this game," Dave Milausnic said at Monday's IHSAA state finals press conference.
He is right. Absolutely.
Dave Milausnic and his coaching staff should be commended for the job they've done getting their school to this game. It wasn't just talent that made this happen. Practices and chalk talks helped lay this foundation.
The voice from the past is in everything that has occurred.
"I know he would've been real excited, real proud," Dave said of his dad. "He was old school. If we held a team to 38 points and they shot 20 percent from the field he would've still had something to point out that we could've done better.
"But for this game he'd tell me for us to be ourselves, to play our game."
That is a great point of view. And I believe Mickey will be watching from above tonight with a big smile on his face. And he should.