MERRILLVILLE — Brad Stangel walked into Andrean's gym two years ago as the new 59ers boys basketball coach.
It took him some time to get to know his players.
It took him even longer to connect with then sophomore James Hudson.
"He didn't come to open gym for a couple of weeks," Stangel said on Monday before Andrean's practice.
The Gary youngster was at a hoops crossroads then. As a freshman he played on the ninth-grade team. As a sophomore he was locked on the junior varsity squad.
But there was another issue with the speedy guard.
"James was 5-10, 135 pounds back then," Stangel recalled.
Hudson knew something had to change that summer. He said he listened to some older 'Niners who told him he had to work harder. Playing half-way doesn't cut it, especially in March.
"I knew I had to commit," Hudson said. "I realized this is what I wanted to do. I had to learn how to work harder."
On Saturday the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Hudson will take his 15.4 scoring average into the Class 2A North Judson Regional semifinal against Marquette Catholic (13-14).
Andrean (17-8) beat the Blazers 74-62 on Jan. 10.
Last season Hudson scored 22 points in the season-opening win against Lake Central. But he suffered a knee injury that hampered most of the season. He missed seven games and was never 100 percent in the games he did play in.
"It was a nagging injury that wouldn't go away," Stangel said. "He was in and out all season. But he's healthy this year and has had no problems."
Hudson knows he is the classic late bloomer. Consequently, he wrote the word "confidence" on his wristband every time he walks on the basketball court.
He also has "4K" on the other arm.
"I do that for Kyle Ross," Hudson said of the 59ers' standout freshman center. "He told me how much he looks up to me, so every time I go out there I'm playing for Kyle."
Hudson scored 17 in the Marquette game at midseason. Ross scored 18 and Curtis Jones added 15.
Colin Kenney led the Blazers with 16 in the previous game.
"He know we have to try to control Kenney," Stangel said. "We have to make him work to get the basketball. (Buddy) Jaffee and (Joe) Andershock can shoot the ball, too. We've got to make them uncomfortable.
"And for us, we need to get the ball inside first. That's what we've been doing since we've been playing well."
Andrean has won five straight since an embarrassing loss at Munster on Feb. 16.
"We've had a lot of struggles this season," Hudson said. "But we've turned it around. Winning the (Whiting) sectional meant so much to us.
"But we feel like there's a lot more we can do."