MERRILLVILLE | Scott Hicko was a teammate of Carson Cunningham at Andrean back in the 1990s. Every day at practice, Hicko guarded the high-scoring Cunningham.
It made an imprint on Hicko's life, which has shown this winter as an assistant on the 59ers' boys basketball team. Cunningham is the head coach.
Hicko is called "The Defense Whisperer" by his old friend. He is called the defensive coordinator by the players on the team.
"Scott has a very gentle but persuasive way about him," Cunningham said before Wednesday's practice. "He also loves defense. We've put a lot of emphasis there. We have 'The Horse Whisperer,' a gentle man who gets the best out of the horses. We now have 'baby whisperers,' people who swaddle babies so they can go to sleep.
"Scott and I have four kids each so we know. With this team he is our 'Defense Whisperer.'"
It's a good thing that Hicko will be on the Plymouth sideline Saturday for the 3A regional. Andrean (20-3) will play Lew Wallace (14-7) in the semifinal. The Hornets have the state's highest scoring average at 79.43 points a game. Wallace scored over 100 three times and 99 in another game this season.
Andrean is giving up around 49 points a game, which Cunningham believes is the fewest points allowed in Andrean history after some research.
The 59ers beat the Hornets 78-65 on Nov. 27.
"We pressure in spots," Hicko said of the hybrid defense his team uses. "We choose certain players and positions to trap. We want to create offense from our defense. The biggest thing is we do not one anyone to get into the lane."
The 59ers scored a lot of points last year. They were a hot-shooting offense first squad. But after losing to Mishawaka Marian in the regional final, everyone knew things had to change.
Hicko said that is difficult in this age of SportsCenter and YouTube highlights, 24/7, which are almost all about offense.
"It's not just that," Hicko said of the offensive video barrage of the age. "It's their girlfriends, parents, neighbors and friends, too. They always say, 'Nice shot' or "Great dunk.'
"They never say, 'Hey, great help-side defense.'"
The 59ers know they must play great team defense Saturday. Otherwise, the season could be over.
"I think we're smarter in choosing when to go for the steal," senior guard D.J. Gonzalez said of the difference that took place over the last year. "I would rather make a good defensive play, a steal and an assist on the other end, than just break someone down on the dribble.
"The defensive play is a four-point swing and that can win a game."
Teammate Matt Ruberry said the graduation of 6-foot-10 Josh James has forced everyone to play harder. There isn't the big man in the paint to make up for oor defense anymore.
"We're all faster and we're stealing the ball more (this year)," Ruberry said. "We're in the passing lanes a lot more now. Our help-side is the key. If someone gets beat, we have to have a teammate there."
If not, a whisperer in red and gold will be on the players to do the job.
"We'll have to against Wallace," Hicko said. "They are a very talented team."