CROWN POINT | For a few minutes I was starting to feel bad for Merrillville's junior varsity. They stood behind the varsity waiting for the first basket against Crown Point on Friday night.
Their legs got tired because it took a while.
The old tradition used to not take so long. Seconds in the glory years. But the salad days have spoiled.
But let's be honest here. Not one person in Northwest Indiana is going to feel sorry for the Pirates.
Merrillville boys basketball has been the dominant program in “Da Region” for the past 20 years.
So after Friday night's 71-60 loss to Crown Point, the record fell to 1-9 for Mighty Merrillville. It is the worst start since 1978 when Janis Qualizza started working there. The Merrillville A.D. can't remember if any Merrillville team has ever started this poor.
Probably never unless you go back to the peach basket days.
“We're making progress, we're making progress for sure,” said Merrillville coach T.J. Lux.
Remember, he played on the Pirates 1995 team that lost in the single-class state championship game by a point. He coached this program last March when the Bucs were one game away from the Class 4A state championship game.
There were 12 seniors on last year's team. So he and everyone knew there would be a dropoff. Just no one saw a 1-9 start, right?
“I could care less,” Lux said of his record. “It's not about the record. I know where we're at and I know where we need to be.”
Sophomore guard D.J. Wilkins has the most varsity minutes from last year. It's about five minutes. That's where this group is.
“We just have to work hard every day and improve every week,” Wilkins said. “It was frustrating at first. It's still disapointing we didn't win. But we're getting better. We just have to keep working at it.”
Lux is teaching harder than ever in his young career, consequently. He's coaching this group to play at this level for 32 minutes. Not there yet. He's speaking to the mental mistakes that keep occurring.
Friday night was better.
Eventually, this group will learn how to win games.
The 60 points scored against a good C.P. team is the second-most points scored this season for Merrillville. Fellow sophomore Marcel Cherry scored 21 and Wilkins had 16.
These two are good. They will get better, as will this team.
“I am proud of the way my guys played tonight,” Lux said.
And while no one in the area wants to hear this after 20 years of beat-downs, the Pirates will be tough to beat at some point.
Correction: Crown Point athletic director Bill Dorulla said the Bulldogs athletic department is not dropping freshmen softball, as I wrote in Friday's Prep Beat. I apologize for the error and am happy there is a team for their girls to play on.