Whether on a basketball court or football field, Dean Hill and Jake Clapp have a keen sense for each other's presence.
"I don't know why, but it's always been like that, since sixth grade," Clapp said. "We always know where the other is going to be."
Clapp moved from Portage to Boone Grove in sixth grade, when Hill sought him out in class — Clapp was already about 5-foot-10 — to play on the AAU basketball team coached by Hill's dad, Bryon.
"Those two and a couple other seniors have been together a long time," Wolves coach Matt McKay said.
As sophomores, Hill and Clapp were hustled up to varsity, following the graduation of a large class of seniors who went 20-5 and led Boone to a sectional title.
"There were like 40 points returning," Hill said.
The Wolves won their 2010-11 opener, but that was followed by 19 consecutive losses.
"We knew it was going to be a big learning process," McKay said. "Dean was thin and extremely weak. Jake was a 6-1 center and it took him a while to be able to hold his own against the competition we play."
Fortunes improved modestly last season, when the Boone went 6-14.
"Obviously, it was pretty tough," Clapp said. "We were playing (varsity) a year earlier than most of the teams we were going against."
Now the hard-knock lessons are paying off. The Wolves have strung together five wins despite having one projected starter, Sam Eleftheri, go down with a knee injury, and another, Merrick Nicksic, move to Tennessee just before the season.
"The one thing we have on everybody else is we’ve been playing three years of varsity," Hill said. "Our sophomore years, when we'd have a double (game) weekend, we expected to get our butts handed to us. Junior year, we were thinking maybe we could pull one off. Now we're expecting to win."
Hill and Clapp have been key to the resurgence. Hill leads the team in scoring (12.2 per game), assists (6.2) and steals (3.7), while Clapp is third in scoring (11.2) and first in rebounds (6.5) and shooting percentage (54).
"They play off each other pretty well," McKay said. "Dean, through the years of being a quarterback and playing soccer when he was younger, sees the floor really well. He's gotten stronger physically. Jake's learned the game better, how to get in the creases, find the open spots, and Dean finds him most of the time."
Though he didn't get much taller, the 6-2 Clapp bulked up considerably through football, now weighing a sturdy 215.
"Football helped a lot," Clapp said. "Playing offense and defense, the blocking, it helped me push myself, to be more physical."
The inside-outside duo were also a solid passing combination in football, where Clapp, a tight end, was Hill's safety valve.
"A lot of our routes, I'd make my reads, and I knew Jake was going to find an opening," Hill said. "I'd see him in the middle of the field and hit him."
It's no different on the court.
"We've always had that sense," Hill said.
Like in the recent Whiting game, when Hill dropped a sweet no-look dime on Clapp for an easy basket.
"I have to stay on my toes," Clapp said.
The meat of the schedule still awaits Boone, starting tonight with Hanover Central, but McKay is optimistic about the Wolves, who should be a contender in a wide-open sectional.
"I think we can certainly compete," McKay said. "As seniors, especially those two, they've been through it before. They know not to panic if we get behind, that (the game)'s a marathon, not a sprint."