By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – Wawasee High School athletics had a ton of curiosity surrounding some of its most visible programs exiting the 2018-19 season. Messy offseason coaching changes in its football, swimming and boys basketball programs had talk shifting around lawsuits instead of the athletics. Boys basketball was among those conversations when Jon Everingham was unceremoniously relieved of his coaching duties following the 2018-19 season.
Wawasee’s front office, however, did an about face and reinstated Everingham a few weeks later, and rather than put on a redemption tour, Everingham put his head down and went to work.
That work saw Wawasee boys basketball make one heckuva turnaround.
The Warriors worked its way to a sectional final for the second straight season. NorthWood would put an end to Wawasee’s dreams of its first regional appearance since 2010, but the statement Wawasee was making, especially in the way it took apart Lakeland in the sectional semi-finals in an 11-point win, was impressive.
Along the way to the tournament final, Wawasee claimed a trophy in winning its home tournament, blowing out Garrett and racing past Lighthouse CPA. Personally for Everingham, he was able to get over a giant gorilla on his back by winning the team’s tenth game of the season, a 58-52 win at home over Columbia City. It wasn’t a state shocker, but it was the seventh win for Wawasee, to which Everingham had been stuck on six wins in his first three seasons with the Warriors.
“The turnaround has been in the works for the past four seasons,” Everingham said, who guided the Warriors to its best 10-game start (7-3) since the 2012 season. “It was not just this team that finally did it but also the players and coaches on the teams the past three seasons that could not quite get over the hump. We started a change in the culture four years ago in the description of what we wanted a Wawasee Basketball player to look like on the floor, off the floor and in our school. We then got to work with individual skill development in the off season and during the season to start the climb to being a competitive basketball team. This past year’s team had enough talent, skill and buy-in to our program to finally win ball games.”
Wawasee also won three Northern Lakes Conference games, its most since the 2011 team won four NLC games.
The team saw an escalation of play from a core of its seniors. Austin Miller and Ethan Hardy were both All-NLC performers, Miller leading the team at 15.4 points per night and finishing as one of the area’s top scorers. Miller’s 27 points against Goshen helped the team to its third NLC win, as well as pouring in 28 points against Lakeland in the sectional. Hardy also had a big hand in Wawasee’s big season, recording 10 points and six rebounds a night. His presence in the Garrett and Tippecanoe Valley season wins were huge.
Wawasee also had the flair for the dramatic, specifically in the Goshen win. After Goshen put on a furious rally to tie the game at 47, another senior, Jaydon Boyer, created his story for the grandkids when he put back a winner as the buzzer sounded to give Wawasee a two-point win.
Wawasee also had a Maalox Moment in holding off Plymouth in another NLC win, and showed a lot of moxie in winning the season opener at Fairfield.
Everingham’s team should be in position to contend once again next year with the return of the likes of Kam Salazar (65 assists) and Keaton Dukes (11 ppg), along with the emergence of Jack Stover (6 ppg, 4 rpg) and Collin Roberson.
“Coaching basketball is never about the coach; it’s about the kids, our school and our community,” noted Everingham. “This year’s tournament was important to me because of what the kids put into the program and what it would mean to our community. My family and I live here, work here and play here at Wawasee. We are Warriors and a part of a community of people that love basketball. I wanted it for all those kids that put in the work, and then some, and the adults in our community that waited patiently to see some exciting championship caliber basketball.”