Bowman Academy started this basketball season 2-7 — what is expected at the basketball powerhouse in Gary. Especially after a season where the Eagles ended up in Indianapolis for the Class 2A state championship game.
Coach Marvin Rea noticed something. So too did senior Antonio Pipkin, the Eagles quarterback. It didn't make either of them happy.
"We were soft," Rea said. "It was pathetic. Guys didn't want to do what it took."
"We were way soft," said Pipkin, who is being recruited by Northern Illinois for football. "We knew something had to change."
So Rea held a practice where all the Eagles did was take charges. The Band-Aids and ice weren't enough by the time the final whistle sounded.
"Antonio and DeShaun Franklin were doing Oklahoma drills on everyone else," Rea said with a laugh. "They were hurting. Guys were saying they didn't want to do it anymore and I said if they came out they wouldn't start.
"Those Oklahoma drills made our team tough. You can't win if you're not tough."
Today, Bowman Academy (16-9) will play Tipton (25-2) in the Class 2A Northern Semistate. This game will be played at Huntington North, as will the Andrean (22-3) and Fort Wayne Concordia (22-4) game.
Merrillville (22-3) will play Carmel (23-2) in the Class 4A semistate at Lafayette Jeff.
All three teams share one common denominator, an edge that reflects their area of the state. Region basketball teams have always had a blue-collar, lunch-bucket spirit about them.
Andrean, Bowman and Merrillville are no different.
"I've never hurt so much after a practice," said Andrean's Shamir Johnson, the 59ers star running back who comes off the bench for the hoops squad.
Johnson was wearing an Andrean football T-Shirt at Wednesday's practice.
Merrillville's Jake Raspopovich was the Pirates star quarterback this past season. After the Munster and South Bend Adams games at Michigan City on Saturday, his knees were bloodied and bruised.
Against Adams in the championship game, Raspopovich was on the floor going for a loose ball when an opposing player drove his shoulder into the senior guard's face.
The kid called "Raspo" got up and barely flinched.
"People know me as a football player," Raspopovich said. "Football is a mental sport. If I throw a football over the middle to B.J. (Jenkins) he knows he's going to get smacked.
"Basketball is mentally and physically tough. We play the same way. We can't let anyone push us around."
Merrillville also got to the semistate in football. Raspopovich threw for 3,154 yards, rushed for 955 yards, had 46 total touchdowns and will not play college football.
He's going to hoop it up at Texas Pan-American.
Against Munster and Adams, the point guard ran the offense and spent a ton of time on the ground going for loose balls. At least 10 times he dove for a loose ball and tipped it to a teammate.
There's no stat for that, but it will be called a "Raspo" in years to come at Merrillville.
"I think we wanted it more," Merrillville coach T.J. Lux said of the Munster game. "I know it's a cliche, but I think our guys did. It's hard for them to process the thought of losing.
"It's no different than the football mentality."
Jenkins hit the 25-footer that beat Munster in the regional semifinal. But the senior also caught 68 passes for 900 yards. He, too, believes the Pirates have a mental edge a lot of hoops' teams don't.
The Bucs can take a shot, hand one out and play extremely bruising defense. A scrape or scratch barely gets noticed. The toughness between the ears is stronger than a trip to the doctor.
An apple a day? These Pirates would step on the fruit on their way climbing up the ladder.
"It's just like football," Jenkins said. "We knew we had to beat Munster. We were not going to lose to them again. We're all seniors. We do not want to go home."
Andrean is also senior laden. But Johnson and Ramon Guerrero are the 59ers lone football players on this roster. Like Raspopovich and Jenkins, these two are playing in their second semistate in four months.
"It is similar," Johnson said. "Both are team sports. We have the superstars on this team, but we all play together."
"It helps to be physical," Guerrero added. "When you drive in the lane, go to get a rebound, you have to be stronger and tougher than your opponent. We push each other all the time. It is like football."
Andrean coach Carson Cunningham believes the mental toughness his team has gotten from playing such teams as Bowman, Merrillville, West Side, Bishop Noll and Lew Wallace has prepared his team for today's game.
"These games were physical," Cunningham said. "That's what Northwest Indiana basketball is all about. We've been playing this way for years. It's cool that we have three teams still alive who all play the same way.
"It will be great to get all three to Indy. It will be tough."