When Homestead boys basketball coach Chris Johnson walks into Lafayette Jeff's packed gymnasium on Saturday for the Class 4A Northern Semistate, a lot will be new and fresh.
But coaching against Lake Central will not be.
Johnson was an assistant coach for Jim East at Merrillville from 1992 through 1994. In fact, this is the third year of the last four that an East assistant has coached in this game, which is 32 minutes from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Munster's Mike Hackett was here in 2011 and Merrillville's T.J. Lux was here last March. Now it's Johnson.
"We're playing our best basketball at the end of the year and that's what you want to do," Johnson said. "Our kids are coming together. We're shooting better from the outside and that's opened up the inside."
Opening up the inside is big, real big, for the Spartans (20-7). Homestead sophomore Caleb Swanigan is 6-foot-8, 270 pounds. He's already been offered by Indiana, Georgetown, Michigan State and Pittsburgh. Michigan and Purdue are also recruiting Swanigan in a big, real big, way.
In Saturday's surprising regional win at Marion, Swanigan scored 18 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in the 68-60 win over Kokomo. He scored 26 and had 13 rebounds in the 59-57 win over Hamilton Southeastern in the championship, which was the school's first regional title.
"He's a phenomenal player," Johnson said. "He's got great hands and great footwork for a man that size. He runs the floor very well and he leads us in 3-point percentage.
"He reminds me of a young Zach Randolph."
Lake Central also has a great big man in 6-8 senior Tyler Wideman, who will play at Butler next year and had the game-winning tip-in Saturday night in the Indians' 57-55 win over Penn at the Michigan City Regional.
Like Wideman, it is not a one-man show. Swanigan has a lot of help. The starting five is formidable.
Ryan Cotter is a 5-9 senior guard averaging 4.2 points and 1.9 assists. Tahj Curry is a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard averaging 9.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. Ben Skowronek is a 6-3 sophomore forward is scoring 2.8 points a game.
Joe Ault is a 6-4 senior forward who is averaging 10.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. And Swanigan is averaging 21 points per game and a lot of rebounds.
The two teams have two common opponents. Homestead beat Merrillville 70-41 on Nov. 3, and the Spartans lost to Munster 61-58 on Dec. 28. Lake Central beat Merrillville 72-33 on Dec. 28 and beat the Pirates again, 65-43, on Feb. 7.
Lake Central beat Munster 47-38 on Dec. 17. Then, the Indians beat the Mustangs 53-37 on March 8 in the championship game of the E.C. Central Sectional.
Johnson knows this will be a big test on a big stage. Few expected his team to win a Marion and they did. So being an underdog, even slightly, is nothing new, like coaching against Lake Central.
"They have a big-time player and we have a big-time player," Johnson said. "But both teams have good players around them. It's going to be a great, exciting game. We're looking forward to the challenge."