HUTTON: Tye Wilburn makes the call as Lake Central heads to state
By Mike Hutton 613-0141 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MikeHuttonPT March 22, 2014 7:08PM
Lake Central's Joe Bannister embraces Lake Central's Tye Wilburn in the final seconds of the game at Jefferson High School on March 22, 2014. | Jim Karczewski\Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 24, 2014 10:12AM
LAFAYETTE — Tye Wilburn had the most skin in the game Saturday.
Wilburn had guaranteed a trip to the state finals on the first day of workouts.
“I called it,” he said, looking straight ahead, his chin up and his chest out while relaxing in the bleachers.
He told his dad. He told his teammates. He told his friends. He even told his coach Dave Milausnic, a cautious sort, who generally likes to keep those kinds of feelings wrapped in the recesses of his brain. Milausnic doesn’t do Twitter. He’s not on Facebook. He likes to lay low, coach his kids up at practice and work the officials hard. Knowing Milausnic, it will be at least 24 hours before he officially recognizes the score: Lake Central 79, Homestead 57. Hey, Dave, you are in.
Milausnic had hushed the state finals talk.
“I just told him, ‘Don’t talk about that,’” Milausnic said. “It’s not my nature.”
In Wilburn’s case, it was more than just a feeling. It was an educated hypothesis.
He had a Division I center (Tye Wideman), a fleet of guards (Robert Ryan, Joe Bannister and Matt Meneghetti) and a couple of role players (Corey Dickelman and Tyler Ross) who could rebound, score and play defense. Most importantly, he was completely healthy after suffering a devastating knee injury (fractured kneecap) his freshman year.
The Indians were really good two years ago when a Glenn Robinson III led team made it to the Michigan City Regional.
Against Homestead, after a tepid first half, after the prediction seemed like it was in peril, after Homestead had cut a 12-point first half lead to two at halftime, Wilburn had a heart-to-heart talk with himself.
He had two points and two rebounds. He was 1-for-7 from the floor. He wasn’t playing well. He had missed too many bunnies.
Joe Bannister, the stat sheet star (21 points), said Wilburn made another pledge.
He was going to bring it in the second half.
“He just has so much heart,” Bannister said. “I believe him. I’ve trusted him all year.”
The moment of realization that Lake Central was way more prepared for this moment than Homestead came after Wilburn got in a minor tiff with Ryan Cotter, a 5-9 guard for the Spartans.
There was a tangle-up between the two. Some words by Wilburn to Cotter. Then more words to Cotter in front of the Homestead bench.
It was nothing really except it was something.
“I needed something to get me going,” Wilburn said. “I wanted a little fire. I wanted to get in his head.”
Lake Central was leading 30-26. After a brief flurry, before Homestead could catch its breath, the Indians were ahead 42-28 with 2:21 left in the third quarter.
Wilburn lit the fire when he took a pass from Wideman inside and stuck his butt into Dana Bart, a 6-8 forward. He made the layup.
He came down on the next possession and missed badly on a three-pointer from the corner. But he rebounded it over Caleb Swanigan, the 6-8, 280-pound center for Homestead.
Later in the quarter, there was another basket inside over Swanigan.
Wilburn, who is 5-10, finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. That was eight more rebounds than the Indians leading rebounder and biggest player, Wideman, had.
Wilburn, one of the smallest guys on the floor, had played huge. Literally. He had made good on his prediction.
“Woooo, “ Milausnic said of Wilburn’s second-half performance. “I can’t use adjectives to describe how he played. He was the heart and soul of our team.”
Of course, these games never turn out like everyone thinks they will.
It was supposed to be a battle between Wideman and Swanigan inside.
It was Wilburn and Bannister who were the difference.
For Wilburn, there was never a question that it was going to end this way, with Lake Central making plans for its first trip to state since 1984.
He told everyone who would listen how this would end. Sometimes, kids just know.