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Boys basketball: West Side’s Arnold Wilson is a big man trapped in a point guard’s body

West Side junior Arnold Wilson.  | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

West Side junior Arnold Wilson. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 23, 2013 6:39AM



GARY — True centers — high schools players that will play the post position in college — are rare in Northwest Indiana.

Last year, Josh James of Andrean, at 6-10, may have qualified as the only potential center in the region and that was a marginal qualification. James is more likely to play power forward at IUPUU. The year before, Jared Smoot, who didn’t start really playing until high school, played for Crown Point. Then, the 6-10 Smoot enrolled at Navy, where he is now playing for the Midshipmen’s basketball team.

Tyler Wideman, at 6-7, 240 pounds, is a true back-to-the-basket player for Lake Central, but he won’t play center in college. Wideman is either a small forward or power forward after high school.

The reality is that even for college programs, it’s difficult to find a sturdy, back-to the-basket true center. Both Indiana (Cody Zeller) and Purdue (A.J. Hammons) have centers but Notre Dame (Jack Cooley is more of a power forward) doesn’t really have one.

This is the long way of delving into the curious case of Arnold Wilson, a 6-2 or perhaps 6-1½ center/point guard for West Side. Yes, that is not a typo. Wilson, a wide bodied back-to-the-basket offensive player for the Cougars, and a very good one at that, is a perfect example of the resourcefulness of high school basketball coaches. They have to make due with the ingredients that come their way.

He is the best post player for the Cougars. West Side coach Murray Richards doesn’t have the luxury of going out and finding a prototype, big-body center. No high school coach does.

So, he works with what he has, and Wilson, a thoughtful, unselfish player, bangs down low with the big guys.

And he does it very well.

Wilson is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per game for the Cougars.

His comfort level for playing in the paint is something that he has nurtured since he started playing as a kid.

Wilson, a stocky 185 pounds, hasn’t grown since eighth grade. He grew up as the biggest kid in his class and on the floor.

Then, he got to high school and the growing stopped. Even as the guys he played against got bigger, Wilson never altered his game to fit his size.

West Side coach Murray Richards uses him inside because the Cougars are not a big team and Wilson is their best player on the block.

“He’s real strong,” Richards said. “He’s got a LeBron James body type. I’ve watched him since eighth grade. He’s a very fundamental player.”

Wilson can be a matchup nightmare for opponents, which is why Richards likes the flexibility of using him in a variety of different spots on the floor.

Denzel Casson is the Cougars’ point guard and Wilson is his backup.

Sometimes, he’ll put Wilson at off guard because he has the best midrange game on the team.

Mostly, though, Wilson tantalizes bigger players with an array of crafty moves inside. He can use both hands and he is adept at using his body to draw fouls. Richards said he gets to the free-throw line about eight times a game.

Free-throw shooting is a weak spot for Wilson. He is shooting 52 percent from the line.

“He’d be averaging 20 per game if he could make his free throws,” Richards said.

On defense, he plays along the baseline in West Side’s 3-2 defense. That allows him a chance to clean up on the boards.

Not surprisingly, Wilson developed his game with Wideman, one of his buddies growing up. The two are still best friends even though Wideman ended up at Lake Central. They both, at some point during grade school, were the biggest kids on the team — until the growing stopped for Wilson.

Wilson’s step dad, Anthony Upshaw, said his comfort level has always been to play around the basket.

“He was bigger than most kids and he learned to back them down,” Upshaw said. “He just wanted to take it the basket.”

Said Wilson: “I’ve always been wide. I was chubby growing up. I always worked on my post moves and foot work.”

Wilson’s big dilemma now is what happens after the season over. A variety of mid-major schools are interested in him — as a point guard. They are intrigued by his athleticism, his long arms and his large hands.

He’ll have to prove over the summer in AAU basketball and next year that he could essentially make the switch to point guard. The 3-point shot isn’t part of his arsenal and he knows that he’ll have to show that he can handle the ball under pressure.

Wilson said he might be able to play the off guard but where he plays after high school isn’t something he is thinking about much now. He’s more interested in getting back at Highland in the opening round of the East Chicago Sectional. The Trojans knocked West Side out of the tournament last year.

He’ll have plenty of time after the season to figure out which position suits him best.



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