ST. JOHN | Every person in every gym in Indiana had high hopes on Nov. 11, the first official practice day of the 2013-14 boys basketball season.
Lake Central coach Dave Milausnic had a little more faith than others, but that was because he had seven seasoned seniors returning from a team that took Munster into overtime in the sectional championship earlier that year.
But there was pressure in St. John. Probably more than in other places. The Indians had been good in the 10 years Milausnic was at the front of the bench. But L.C. had not broken through.
In 2012, Lake Central won its first sectional championship since 1997. But an unexpected loss to South Bend Adams in the regional semifinal and the graduation of Glenn Robinson III didn't make the heat in the kitchen any cooler.
Milausnic handled the heat. And he changed his approach. Everyone knew he had two standouts in Tyler Wideman and Tye Wilburn. But he had them on the roster the previous two years.
"We put more importance on the other guys accepting their roles," Milausnic said. "I felt if everyone buys into their role we could be awfully tough to beat."
Milausnic is The Times Coach of the Year, after leading the Indians to the Class 4A state championship game, where the Indians lost to Indianapolis Tech, 63-59.
Trailing by 23 in the second half, his team went on a run that had the Titans sweating bullets. L.C. got within three with 10.9 seconds left.
"I am so proud of what those guys did," Milausnic said. "They did what they did all year. The never quit. They never stopped fighting. They never put their heads down."
Milausnic spoke about the play of senior forward Cory Dickelman, who didn't score in the semistate win over Homestead, but played great defense and rebounded and had the biggest smile on Lafayette Jeff's court after the win.
The 79-57 win set history. L.C. got to Indianapolis in 1984. The Indians returned 30 years later.
Milausnic spoke about Tyler Ross, a 6-foot-5 wing who did a little bit of everything to help the team. And Joe Bannister, who would've scored many more from his guard position at another school. Or Robert Ryan's defensive scrappiness coming off the bench and Matt Meneghetti's long-range scoring for not being a scorer.
There is no "i" in team. There is no "i" in Lake Central.
And it wasn't just the coach who observed this family theme.
"We never would've got to Indianapolis without those guys," Wideman said. "When we lost in sectionals last year it brought the seniors closer. Even in our conditioning we all wanted the same thing. We went much harder in practice this year.
"Everyone bought into their role. Playing defense. Coming off the bench to take a charge. Our role players were beyond great. Coach Dave did a great job."