Branden Dawson sat in the restaurant and watched Xavier Jones celebrate.
It was 2009 and Jones, then a junior at West Side, was just named The Times' boys basketball player of the year. He pulled out a newspaper-sized poster of himself curling two basketballs on his biceps and held it up for everyone to admire.
That was all Dawson, then a sophomore, had to see.
"It was like all eyes on him," Dawson said. "He was player of the year, so he had all eyes on him. I said 'I want that. I want that for myself.'"
Dawson committed himself to capturing the award in 2010, ranking it alongside winning a state championship as his goals. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward accomplished the former and nearly willed Lew Wallace to a state title. Then he set his sights on two in a row.
The success of a Class 3A runner-up finish in 2009-10 set the expectations high for Dawson and Lew Wallace this past season. After signing with Michigan State in November, Dawson led the Hornets to a 10-11 record against a national schedule, but it was his ability to rise above his team's subpar season that earned Dawson his second-consecutive Times Player of the Year award.
"He takes his training very seriously," former Wallace coach Renaldo Thomas said. "He worked on improving his shot. He just grew and blossomed.
"BJ loves competing."
It showed this season as Dawson averaged 28.7 points, 18.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists a game. His year was capped when he was named an McDonald's All-American --- the first one from the Region in 19 years.
Dawson is the first back-to-back player of the year since Andrean's Shane Power in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. He's the third since Roosevelt's Glenn Robinson accomplished the feat in 1989-90 and 1990-91.
During his run to becoming one of the elite high school basketball players in America, Dawson emerged as one of the best rebounders in the country, which helped him land on Parade's All-American team as well.
Thomas said Dawson isn't just talented; he's also coachable. Just one of the many reasons Tom Izzo chased Dawson.
But as Dawson proved during the past two seasons, he's also motivated. And he has Xavier Jones to thank for that.
"I felt like that year, my sophomore year, I should have won," Dawson said. "It just made me come back with that hunger and the fight to come back and win.
"I just worked hard, and fortunately I did win (last season) and this year, I did, too."