When Tom Wells took the LaPorte boys basketball coaching job in 2002, it figured to be a career-defining move.
Following stints at Griffith and Portage, he landed a position at a program with an established tradition of success.
While Wells has found stability at LaPorte — he's in his 12th year in the Maple City — the wins haven't consistently followed. After going 15-6 and 21-4 in his first two seasons and capturing a sectional title in 2004, the Slicers have since finished north of the .500 line only once. It bottomed out in 2013 when LaPorte went 5-16, the third-worst mark in school history, a downturn that's coincided with an overall talent backslide in football and baseball.
The poor hard-court record was magnified by the loss of 6-foot-6 center Gage Ott and guard Miles Browder to 10-game suspensions near the end of last season, penalties that carried over into this season.
"We have very high expectations of our athletes," Wells said.
While both were allowed to practice, giving LaPorte's second group quite a boost, they couldn't play until the championship of the Duneland Athletic Conference East tournament Saturday at Michigan City.
"This group of six seniors has been through a lot ... some lean years where wins were hard to come by," Wells said after downing M.C. "That's why you enjoy a night like tonight."
Despite their absences, the Slicers had gotten off to a somewhat surprising 6-2 start, fueled by Josh Fleming, arguably the best point guard in Northwest Indiana with the ability to create as well as score. The return of Ott, a strong double-double threat, balances LaPorte's inside-outside game, while Browder adds another perimeter threat to the mix.
"I like the pieces of the puzzle we have at both ends," Wells said. "Teams can't key on one guy. "
Wells also likes the chemistry of the group. Sometimes, adversity reveals cracks in the foundation, an easy opportunity to make excuses. Sometimes, it reveals character, a greater resolve.
"It's a simple formula. Good things happen because they deserve it," Wells said. "They have never shortchanged me. It's been a lot of hard work. It's a very close group. They do what they do. Nobody does anything out of character. It's a motivated, self-disciplined group of guys."
With no game slated for this weekend, the Slicers will be rested and ready, having had 12 days off when they host Lake Central (7-1) next Friday. It's the DAC opener, but the outcome will go a long way in deciding the champion. The Indians are as good at it gets in the region, so Wells will find out just how far the LaPorte revival has come.
Don't rule out the possibility that they'll meet again in March.