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Boys basketball notes: Stock stays high for West Side’s Washington
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BOYS BASKETBALL | NOTES

Boys basketball notes: Stock stays high for West Side’s Washington

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Jalen Washington, West Side

West Side's Jalen Washington is out for the season as he recovers from a torn ACL in his right knee. The 6-foot-7 forward is still ranked as the No. 15 prospect for the Class of 2022, according to ESPN national recruiting director Paul Biancardi.

Jalen Washington is recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee, but he is still widely considered as one of the top high school players in the country.

According to ESPN national recruiting director Paul Biancardi’s latest rankings, which were released Wednesday, West Side’s 6-foot-7 forward is the No. 15 prospect, nationally, in the Class of 2022.

“I feel this is a real testament to my hard work,” said Washington, who has scholarship offers from Purdue, Indiana, Iowa and DePaul. “It shows that all of the work I’ve put in — it still matters.”

Throughout the first two seasons of his prep career, Washington has only appeared in seven games for the Cougars.

He fractured his right shoulder against Marquette in his high school debut last year and came back for the team’s last six games of the season. This year, he won’t play in any prep games as he continues rehabbing from a ruptured ACL.

Washington underwent surgery to repair his right knee Nov. 20. Just over two months after the operation, Indiana’s top-ranked sophomore said he is right on schedule and expects to return to the court in late July.

West Side coach Chris Buggs believes Washington has shown an exceptional level of patience and selflessness as he works his way back. Even though the sophomore can’t play right now, Buggs emphasized that his star player still cares about their program.

“He’s really, really engaged in the games,” Buggs said. “On the technical side of it, the strategic side, he’s started to really kind of become another coach. He talks to the guys constantly. To be a sophomore and to go through what he’s went through, it shows a lot of maturity.”

Calumet stuns Lake Station with buzzer beater

The play wasn’t designed for Jerell Johnson, but with time winding down and a Greater South Shore Conference game on the line, he seized the moment.

Coming out of a timeout with 4.8 seconds left in a tie game against Lake Station, Calumet’s junior guard caught a pass on the right wing, took two left-handed dribbles down the middle of the lane and hoisted a floater over the outstretched arms of two Eagles defenders.

Game over.

Johnson’s high-arching buzzer beater dropped straight in and lifted the Warriors to a dramatic 66-64 road victory over Lake Station on Jan. 17. The junior was immediately rushed by his teammates as he quieted the home crowd, and it’s a moment he’ll never forget.

“You dream of shots like that when you’re little — going in the backyard and shooting shots like that,” said Johnson, who scored 16 points. “And for that to actually happen to me, it feels very unreal, especially in a conference game on the road.

“That’s the best feeling when their crowd is just dead silent.”

Calumet earned its third straight win behind Johnson’s heroics, but it wouldn’t have been possible without another big play from DeShaun Thornton.

DeShaun Thornton and Jerell Johnson, Calumet

Calumet senior guard DeShaun Thornton, left, and junior guard Jerell Johnson combined for 30 points in a win over Lake Station on Jan. 17.

Trailing 64-62 with 7.0 seconds remaining, the senior guard made a right-handed layup to tie the game — leaving 4.8 seconds on the clock for Lake Station to potentially win it. However, on the ensuing inbound play, the Eagles threw the ball out of bounds, and their crucial turnover allowed Johnson to come away with the game-winner on the final possession.

“Before I even scored the (game-tying) bucket, Coach (Dominique Nelson) called a timeout and drew up a play,” said Thornton, who finished with 14 points. “It wasn’t actually for me. It was for Avion (Wilson) to come around for a shot, but I saw the gap, and (Nelson) just said, ‘Believe.’ So I believed that I would get that layup.”

After starting the year 3-7, the Warriors entered Thursday’s conference home matchup against Wheeler with a chance to return to .500 on the season. Despite going on a six-game losing streak from Dec. 21 to Jan. 4, Nelson said he has remained confident in his players and their campaign.

“Just getting my guys to understand that it’s important to believe and to never give up until (the clock) actually hits zero,” Nelson said. “Every year in the history of our program, we’ve had something good happen.

“But it comes with belief first.”

Wells having fun at Michigan City

Tom Wells was drenched from head to toe as he emerged from a victorious Michigan City locker room after a 64-57 Duneland Athletic Conference win over Valparaiso on Jan. 17.

The win was a long time coming for Wells, who hadn't beaten the Vikings on their home court since Jan. 18, 2008. His players celebrated the moment by dousing Wells with water in a wild locker room celebration that could be heard in the halls.

"Just having a dance party," Wells said with a wide smile. "(The players) listen to different music than I listen to."

The music might be different, but the language of basketball is the same, and Wells hasn't forgotten how to coach despite getting chased out of LaPorte after he led the Slicers to 19 wins in the 2016-17 season. Wells took two years off from coaching, spent some time officiating and waited for the perfect opportunity to get back on his feet.

Tom Wells, Michigan City (bbk notes)

Michigan City coach Tom Wells is enjoying coaching the Wolves after spending two years away from coaching since his departure from LaPorte.

He's found that at Michigan City.

"I'm having a blast with these kids right now," Wells said. "They're playing hard for me."

The Wolves won seven of their first eight games this season but have fallen on hard times after dropping three of their last four, including a crushing 70-68 loss to Crown Point in their conference opener. Michigan City returns to DAC action on Friday night against Wells' former LaPorte team.

Covenant Christian’s Lins scores 51

As Covenant Christian’s leading scorer, Ben Lins is used to having big offensive games for the Knights

But even he couldn’t have predicted his historic performance against Heritage Christian on Jan. 16.

“I never imagined doing any of this,” Lins said. “Going into high school, I thought maybe I could get a 30-point game here or there.”

The 6-foot-5 senior guard scored much more than 30 points in an 83-43 victory over the Defenders. He caught fire en route to a career-high 51 points. Lins shot 22-of-35 from the floor, nailed a team-high 5 3-pointers and had the chance to score even more.

John Heerema, Ben Lins, Dennis Lins, Covenant Christian

Covenant Christian's Ben Lins, middle, celebrates with his coach John Heerema, left, and his father and athletic director Dennis Lins after eclipsing 1,000 points in his prep career earlier this season. The senior guard erupted for a career-high 51 points against Heritage Christian on Jan. 16.

He erupted for 22 points in the first quarter, notched 39 points by halftime, totaled 47 points at the end of the third quarter and reached 51 points a few minutes into the final period. With a large lead in hand, Lins was subbed out and given a round of applause by the home crowd for his extraordinary display.

The senior’s 51 points set a new school record and helped him pass former Covenant Christian center, and 2018 graduate, Chris Beezhold as the program’s all-time leading scorer. Lins has scored 1,273 points in his prep career, while Beezhold finished with 1,247 points.

“I thought, ‘If I’m lucky, I could get to 1,000 (points),’ and I’ve definitely exceeded my goals,” Lins said. “It’s just been crazy to see how much I’ve developed and how much has changed.”

During his freshman campaign, Lins scored just 64 points total. Four years later, he is now averaging a team-high 23.7 points per game, while shooting 52.1% from the field and 43.1% from behind the arc.

Knights coach John Heerema said he was awestruck by Lins’ record-setting outing against Heritage Christian, especially because the senior took care of the ball.

“I didn’t realize it until I got the stats and stuff back from Hudl, but he had zero turnovers,” Heerema said. “I told his dad, who is our athletic director Dennis Lins, ‘Do you know how impressive it is to have the ball in your hands that much and score 51 points and have no turnovers?’ That was as impressive as anything he did that night.”

Times correspondent Paul Oren contributed to this story.

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Lake County Sports Reporter

James Boyd is the Lake County prep sports reporter for The Times. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a proud native of Romeoville, Illinois. Before anything else, his main goal in life is to spread love and light.

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