CEDAR LAKE | It is surprising that even the rims were up at 5959 Broadway when the 2013-14 boys basketball season started.
Was there even red thread on the uniforms in early November?
Heralded coach Carson Cunningham. Gone. Nine seniors who were one shot away from playing in the Class 3A state finals. Gone. Talent and names that everyone knew. See ya.
In walks Scott Hicko for the first day of practice. Hopes were high.
“I was thinking, 'New beginnings,'” Hicko said. “We had three guys who had limited varsity minutes. Nine guys who never saw a tick on the floor. But I was positive.”
Then, unfortunately, the season started. At Lake Central. A 79-37 loss. At Crown Point. A 78-43 loss. At Bowman Academy. A 92-52 loss. So much for Hallmark cards.
“Lake Central is a tough team to open up with,” Hicko said. “They're really good. It was shock and awe. But I knew I had one thing with this group of guys. They would fight every game. I knew we had that.”
On Friday night the 59ers played a young, but scrappy Hanover Central team. The final, 62-43 in favor of the 'Niners, wasn't perfect. But it was Andrean's fourth straight win.
Nick Podkul led the way with 17 points. The junior nailed a buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the first quarter. Then, the guard gave a military salute. At the end of the third quarter Podkul made a strong move to the basket and finished right before the horn.
Not bad for a young man who's gone through a gauntlet of pain the last few months.
In September his father, Frank Podkul, died in his sleep at the age of 59. Like his sons, he will be a 59er throughout eternity. The one-time football state champion coach at Bishop Noll and two-time softball state champion coach at Andrean was a legend in region sports. Now, his sons are carrying on the family legacy.
Frank Podkul Jr. hadn't played basketball the last two seasons. His father wanted him to. So after all the tears and ceremony had slowed, Nick and Frankie had a talk.
“He was on the edge,” Nick said. “My dad wanted to see us both play together. It's great having Frankie out there with us. We're both playing for the team first. But we're playing for our dad, too.”
The father of these two young men is certainly smiling from above after such a quote. His “team first” mentality won him a lot of games through the years.
And it's going on with another generation of Niners.
Podkul is leading the 59ers in scoring. When Hicko was asked how many a game, Podkul said, “50,” with a teenage smile.
“Nick and Ben Davidson is the heart and soul of this team,” Hicko said. “He's very positive. He's always in the right spot on the floor. And, of course, he can shoot lights out.”
Tears gathered in Podkul's eyes when he spoke about his father. He still hears the voice in his head before every game.
“He always told me, 'Just be Nick,'” Podkul said.
Wiping away the tears he walked down the hallway at Hanover. I don't know everything, even though I sometimes think I do. But this is one thing I am sure of.
Nick and Frankie, your father is very proud of both of you. Keep hanging those nets.