GARY | The life and career of Lew Wallace senior Branden Dawson has been very special in many ways. But tonight, when his Hornets take on Chicago Simeon at Chicago State University, the greatness will rise to another level.
For the first time ever a Region high school basketball team will play on ESPN to a national audience.
"It's like any dream of any little kid," Dawson said. "I am so excited about it. Our team is so excited about it. This is a great opportunity for me and the entire program. What else could I ask for?"
According to Rachel Margolis of ESPN, the network's first broadcast of a high school game occurred in December of 2002. The big-name player in that game was LeBron James, who played at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. That game was on ESPN2.
ESPN began a regular series of prep games in 2003, when three games were shown. In 2005, with ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU now in the mix, eight games were shown nationally a year.
Margolis said that tonight's game will be the first for a team from Northwest Indiana. But Greg Oden's Lawrence North team and Eric Gordon's North Central did lace up their sneakers for a coast-to-coast broadcast.
"That's how big this game is," Wallace assistant coach Kenya Stines said. "That's how big B.J. is."
Dawson, who will play at Michigan State next season, is The Times reigning Player of the Year, but his Hornets (1-4) have lost four straight. But the defending Class 3A state runner-ups have played a brutal, national schedule.
Simeon, currently ranked No. 1 in Illinois and the defending Class 4A state champs, is No. 13 in ESPN's Fab 50 national ranking.
Simeon beat Bowman Academy 61-46 at the Genesis Center on Nov. 27.
The Wallace staff found out about the ESPN game in August. Since the contract was signed, player bios have been filled out and given to ESPN to help with the broadcast. Both Dawson and Hornets coach Renaldo Thomas have to get to the gym earlier than normal to be interviewed for the broadcast.
But Dawson just wants his team to get better after a tough start. The fact that the game is on national television only makes the stage that much sweeter.
"Only a few high school players get an opportunity like this," Dawson said. "We're a young team but we're getting better. This is the place to play our best game. We can beat them if we play our best."
And unlike any other game in Region history, if that happens people from Maine to Alaska will be able to tune in for the action.