There were some bumps early but West Side's Arnold Wilson didn't let the beginning define who he is.
The 6-foot-1 junior guard knows it's how you finish.
Two years ago, a thin Cougars team took the floor without a ton of talent. Wilson was an unshaven freshman. Banging bodies and heads with guys three years older wasn't easy.
Wilson, though, had something to draw strength from.
"I knew playing against older guys only makes me better," said Wilson. "But when it got tough, I got down on my knees and prayed. I go to church every Sunday. I know God will give me strength when things are tough."
Wilson's mother, Tanisha Upshaw, is a minister at Gary's Whole Truth Gospel Church of Faith. She raised her son to follow in the light.
West Side coach Murray Richards didn't need a ton of faith when looking at Wilson's game several years ago. Richards knew the real deal when he saw it.
"Arnold was the most fundamental ninth-grader I've ever seen," Richards said. "I knew he was special. He can play the 1 through the 5. He can do it all."
For The Times No. 10 Cougars, Wilson has done a lot. He's averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds and four steals. Even his foes have huge respect.
"Arnold's always played well against us," Andrean senior Nick Davidson said Tuesday after the 59ers beat the Cougars by five. "I have a lot of respect for him. He always plays hard and does a good job out there."
Richards said his most experienced guard got his game from the gene pool and an extreme work ethic. Wilson's father, Anthony Upshaw, played for the Cougars in the 1980s.
"He is a gym rat," Richards said. "If it was open 24 hours, Arnold would be in there 24 hours. He'd be saying, 'Coach, I've got some things I need to work on.' He just loves the game.
"When I go scout he always has me pick him up. His basketball IQ is off the charts."
Division I programs are looking at Wilson with a keen eye. Western Kentucky, Eastern Illinois, Detroit, Wright State and UIC have all let Wilson know they're watching.
West Side fans haven't been able to observe Wilson without a GPS. The Cougars first two games of the year were at home. They played two home games in December during the Holiday Tournament. And that's been it.
Twelve straight regular-season road games will end next week when Roosevelt and Hammond come to town.
The Cougars have played two of the area's and state's top teams -- Munster and Andrean -- down to the wire before falling. Wilson knows his team is ready to finally break through.
"We're coming along," Wilson said. "We're getting better. We want to keep improving until sectionals start. We believe we can make a run."