The IHSAA tournament has me thinking about the last game of my high school career. It was five years ago. I played for Highland and we opened up against Lake Central, which was ranked eighth in the state. The sectional was at East Chicago, which has the second biggest gym in the country.
We came into the game at 8-13. LC was 18-3. We had lost to them earlier in the season at home by 44. We would need a miracle to beat them.
We set up a plan to stall the entire game. In the back of my head, I was thinking, “this is never going to work.” That game plan fails 99% of the time. The only time I ever saw it work was in 2012. Highland took on defending state champs Bishop Noll. Highland coach Eddie Fierek set up a game plan to eat clock the entire game. As a JV player at the time, I played defense during practice for what seemed like eight hours that week. BNI had won 30-plus games in a row. It was layups or nothing the entire game for the Trojans. The game plan worked and Highland won 57-44.
I wasn’t confident that we could do the same against LC. Their starting five was loaded. Tye Wilburn was an all-area point guard. Matt Meneghetti was one of the best shooters in the state, and Tyler Ross was a perfect 6-7 wing man. Corey Dickelman was a stretch-four and could out jump anyone, and Tyler Wideman was nothing short of a beast at 6-8. They also had great role players off the bench. Wilburn, Ross, and Wideman went on to have good college careers. I had played AAU with Corey and was well-acquainted with his jumping ability. As a 6-3 post player, I was also well-acquainted with the many talents of Ty Wideman. I had guarded him since middle school.
In eighth grade, I watched Wideman block one of my teammate’s shots off the scoreboard.
At Highland, we had a lot of seniors, which is a plus in the tournament. But we had real trouble taking care of the ball and would wind up committing a ton of turnovers.
Heading into the game, I was nervous. It was sectionals, and it was my job to stop Ty Wideman, or at least slow him down. Thousands of people were there. From the opening tip, we were in over our heads. We had real trouble holding hold on to the ball. I remember Wideman guarding me very tightly and the refs never blowing the whistle. I caught the ball near the half court line and tried to dribble and Wideman scratched me on the arm. Nothing. No whistle. So I was fed up early. LC went on to end the first quarter with a 14-0 head start. We didn’t even score in the first quarter. Looking back, I realize that the game was already over at point.
Meneghetti torched our team hitting seven three’s for 21 points to lead all scorers. Wideman ended up with six points. I never settled into the game and didn’t score a single point. It was the only game all season I didn’t score. The nerves got the best to me. But, I didn’t let that stop me from having a memorable last game.
In the fourth quarter with about four minutes left, we were down by more than 30 points and had the ball. I went to set a down screen and saw Joe Bannister running right at me. He ran through me like he was trying to sack a quarterback. I heard a whistle blown from behind me. I thought for sure that it would be a foul on Bannister.
Nope. Offensive foul. I couldn’t believe it
“Are you f-----g kidding me!” I yelled at the ref. “You haven’t given us a call once.”
It was the first time I had ever cussed at a ref and it felt great.
I was, of course, met with the first technical foul of my life. With the offensive foul and the technical foul, that gave me five on the night. So with nothing to lose, I pressed on.
I untucked my jersey and made my way over to the ref. I may have even waved a finger in his face. I don’t remember.
“You’ve been sucking up to the best team in the area all night.” I said. “They didn’t need your help in this one.”
The Highland fans behind our bench cheered loudly. I took me a few seconds to realize what I had just done, which was to get ejected from the last game I would ever play. We lost 76-39. After the game I told my AAU teammate, Dickelman, to go all the way. LC almost did. They lost in the finals to Indiana Tech, who had Trey Lyles. He went to Kentucky and ended up playing in the NBA.
In all irony, my current boss, Jim Dedelow, was walking into the Barato Center as all of this was happening. He saw the whole thing. He takes great pleasure in making me recount the story every couple of months on the air.
I don’t recommend to players in the IHSAA tournament to go out like I did. I prompt them to play as hard as they can and leave it at that. Win or lose, life will go on.
On the other hand, I do not regret my exit. It was a sincere expression of my feelings at the time. I went out with a bang and a decent story to tell every March for the foreseeable future.