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HAMMOND — There were a lot of question marks in the Hammond gymnasium after the graduation of Caleb Coleman.

The 6-foot-6 standout is playing at State Fair Community College in Missouri, where several Division I programs are watching his every move.

Back home, however, there was a big hole on the Wildcats' stat sheets. Who, this winter, was going to fill in Coleman's markers?

"Caleb was great," Hammond coach Larry Moore Jr. said. "But his ability demanded the ball in his hands last year. Sometimes the other guys got lost in his shadow.

"We are not having that problem this year."

Hammond is 4-1 heading into tonight's game at Gavit. And that includes a tough loss against Merrillville and wins over Munster, Highland and West Side.

While most of the Hammond players have found a new life this season, senior guard Malik Miller, who is averaging 19.5 points and four assists a game for the 'Cats.

Last season the 6-foot guard scored 14 points a game with five assists.

Miller said he didn't start playing basketball until he was in the fifth grade. Instead. he watched his brother and cousins play almost every day. But Miller knew his role in those days.

"I was the little kid sitting on the sidelines," he said. "Just watching."

In sixth grade he moved to Illinois and played some basketball at Seton Academy before the school closed. So heading into his junior season his family moved back to Hammond.

It's been a big boost for the Wildcats, especially this season.

"Malik has grown up a lot on and off the court over the last year," Moore Jr. said. "This year he's helping our inexperienced kids to get better. He's a teacher not a yeller.

"Our seniors have worked very hard over the summer trying to get ready for this year. We felt like we let one get away last year."

Hammond won 15 games last season but lost to Griffith 67-62 in the sectional opener. A game the Wildcats felt like they should've gotten.

Miller's scoring ability and variation of hanging the nets is an important weapon for Hammond as the season moves forward. He can hit the open 3, like several other of his teammates.

Miller can take most off the dribble, either taking it to the rack or hitting the in-between floater. He does all of these things with an equal efficiency. Not one is better than the other,

"This group is very hard working," Moore Jr. said. "Malik is a leader in that in a lot of different ways."

In Tuesday's 73-44 win at Clark, Miller scored 17 points, but 10 other Wildcats played, proving how deep Moore Jr.'s bench is. Seven different Wildcats scored five points or more.

Just like the game plan was laid out.

"We have a lot of seniors, we share the ball and we're not selfish," Miller said. "Whoever is hot we feed. It doesn't matter who it is. We are working hard because we want to win the sectional this year.

"We felt like we should've last year."

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Sports reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.