ST. JOHN | Moments before Wednesday night's tip-off against visiting West Side, Tye Wilburn did the rounds with his fist and a smile.
Pump. Pump. Pump.
Up and down the scorer's table.
To all three game officials.
To most of the Cougars.
The Lake Central senior point guard is having fun playing the game he loves. And he is playing the best basketball of his career at the right time.
Tonight, Times No. 1 Bowman Academy comes to the No. 2 Indians for the first clash between the power programs.
"I would say we're the underdogs," Wilburn said after scoring nine points with four rebounds in L.C.'s 75-33 beat-down of West Side. "(Bowman) beat Indy Tech, so they've got to be the favorite."
Wilburn knows his house will be packed tonight for this showdown. He knows as many players on Bowman as his own. His father, Terrence Wilburn, is a coach with the Meanstreets' AAU program, where Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon also once shined.
Tye Wilburn is a summer teammate of Bowman's Justin King.
"Knowing people from AAU at other schools is fun," Wilburn said. "There's always a little trash talking before games with your friends. We'll both play to win during the game, but we'll be friends again once the game is over."
As a lad Wilburn's older brother used to bring his friends over to play driveway hoops. Now and again the little brother would be allowed to play with the older guys.
This is where Band-Aid s and bruises enter the story.
"They killed me," Tye said. "I got a few scrapes. But it did make me tougher."
The grit helped him his freshman year at L.C. A knee injury put him on the shelf. He returned to play his sophomore year and was a part of a sectional championship team, but his game had some holes in it.
"His game's gotten a lot better," Indians coach Dave Milausnic said. "Tye's sophomore year he was limited. He had missed a whole year of basketball so we had to be very careful with how much he played and when he played."
The 5-foot-11 guard is being recruited by IPFW, Central Michigan, Murray State and Detroit, among others. If any coaches saw Wednesday's game, the offers might start flying.
Wilburn played an extremely clean game. His numbers were not jaw-dropping but his influence on the outcome was. Unlike his 10th grade year, Wilburn is doing the little things with a more fundamental flair.
"We want to keep getting better," Wilburn said. "When we won sectionals my sophomore year, that was for the seniors. Well, this is our senior year now. I would run through a brick wall to win the sectional.
"And that's what I plan on doing."