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Hutton: T.J. Lux continuing Pirates’ winning tradition

Merrillville coach T.J. Lux calls out play during IHSAA boys sectional game Thursday Feb. 28 2013 Michigan City Ind. |Joe

Merrillville coach T.J. Lux calls out a play during the IHSAA boys sectional game Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 in Michigan City, Ind. |Joe Raymond ~For Sun-Times Media

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Fast starts

Coaches who won at least a sectional and regional in their first two years at a school since class basketball started

Team, coach Seasons

Andrean, Clint Swan 1998-2000

Bowman, Marvin Rea 2009-2010

Blue River, Barry Huckeby 2000-2001

Centerville, Ryan Chiddister 2004-2005

Covington, Michael Gasaway 2001-2002

East Chicago, Pete Trgovich 2006-2007

Mater Dei, John Goebel 2003-2004

Forest Park, Nate Hawkins 2010-2011

Fort Wayne Canterbury, Dan Kline 2011-2012

Chatard, Dan Archer 2002-2003

Lafayette Central Catholic, Chad Dunwoody 2002-2003

Lafayette Central Catholic, David Barrett 2006-2007

Muncie Central, Matt Fine 2005-2006

Park Tudor, Ed Schilling 2010-2011

Pike, Larry Bullington 2002-2003

Pike, Bill Zych 2011-2012

Merrillville, T.J. Lux 2012-2013

Updated: April 16, 2013 4:18PM



Who is the best young coach in Northwest Indiana? That’s easy. Using measurable criteria, it’s Merriillville’s T.J. Lux.

Lux erased any stigma that might have existed about being hired because he was the son of the superintendent when he won a sectional last year with a team that lost a pair of Division I guards — Brandon Clark and Jeremiah Jones — to graduation, and its best inside player, Edward Seay, to a season-ending knee injury before the first of the year. Lux skipped rebuilding mode and went straight into hardware mode.

He raised the metabolism this year — and the bar — with a stunning win over Munster in the first round of the Michigan City Regional and even more stunning 21-point victory over South Bend Adams in the championship game.

How big a deal is it to win a sectional and regional in his first two years of coaching? Huge, at a place like Merrillville, which hadn’t won a regional since 2003. There were only three other local coaches, in the current class system, who went back-to-back with either a regional or sectional in their first two years, and two of them hardly count as fair comparisons. Pete Trgovich did it at East Chicago Central in 2006-2007 and Marvin Rea did at Bowman in 2009-2010. Trgovich had coached before at Andrean, and Bowman was bursting with talent the day it qualified for the IHSAA tournament.

The Eagles had the luxury of being a 2A powerhouse with housing in Class 1A for three years before they were bumped up. Trgovich inherited three athletes who are or will be professionals: E’Twuan Moore (NBA), Kawann Short (NFL) and Angel Garcia (European basketball).

Clint Swan, while at Andrean, actually had a more impressive opening run, winning three regionals and a semistate in his first three seasons (1998-2000). Then, regionals were only one game.

Lux’s sprint out of the gate is significant because the Michigan City Sectional is the second toughest sectional in the area, behind only the West Side Sectional. Since class basketball started, it’s just not that easy for schools to pile up multiple sectional wins, like Valparaiso used to do when it hosted its own sectional in single class.

The affable, laid back Lux is easy to underestimate: Both him and teammate Brett Fedak led the Pirates to the state championship game in 1995, yet most people considered Fedak, a hard, nosed, solidly built 6-foot-7 all around banger as, the better high school player. Fedak made first-team Associated Press all-state, Lux didn’t (though both made the Indiana All-Star team). Fedak averaged 16.3 points and 4.9 assists per game his senior year while Lux, always a good shooter, averaged 19.6 ppg.

Lux had wanted to play college basketball in Indiana but only Butler offered. Lux didn’t take the Bulldogs up quick enough and he lost the scholarship to someone else.

Northern Illinois went hard for him and Lux repaid the Huskies with a hall-of-fame career. He finished his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,996 points, 18.8 ppg and 9.1 rpg). Former Valparaiso University coach Homer Drew conceded that he made a mistake by not recruiting Lux harder.

Lux played six years in Europe, banking enough money to open his own fitness business in Crown Point before settling down to assist former Merrillville head coach Jim East.

He took over last season, and by mid-year, the cultural shift for the Pirates had kicked in completely.

They went from being a rugged, half-court, bruising defensive team that only liked to run offensively on certain occasions, to an up tempo, full-court pressure, pedal-to-the-metal-at-all-times squad. They employ a variety of different types of full-court pressure and they switch frequently. They defeated both Munster and Valparaiso in the second half after they had built up leads by using different looks defensively to change the pace of the game.

Lux has spent time with VCU coach Shaka Smart, picking his brain for defensive sets.

The Pirates, with 11 seniors, probably won’t be as good next year as they are now. Then again, it was hard to imagine them beating both Munster and South Bend Adams on the same day, so anything is possible.

One thing is certain: Merrillville will be just as good as ever under Lux in the future.



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