You obviously don’t want to write the same thing too many times.
I have raved about Wayne coach Byron Pickens in the last month. I have raved about Wayne’s regular season win over Homestead that was a catalyst in them being SAC champions. Everyone gets it by now, I am high on Wayne General basketball this season.
And now, with a 55-53 win over Homestead, Wayne are Sectional champions for the first time since 1994, the longest drought of any team in the SAC.
“It means everything man,” Pickens said post game, fighting back some emotion as he held his son his arms while his team celebrated behind him. “These kids are helping me grow as a person, as a human. Just to see them blossom as basketball players and the city to recognize how talented they are, I can’t put it into words.’
But as I sit here after an extraordinary Saturday night showcase at Columbia City where Wayne beat Homestead for that Sectional title, what else is there to rave about? I mean there are other things, including Spartan Will Jamison’s heroic performance, but Wayne….just wow.
I remember sitting in the gym at Wayne High School during 2019’s Sectional final, before any of their current players were in high school….before Pickens took to their sideline. I watched that General team, led by Craig Young, fall to Huntington North for the title. It was one of my favorite Sectional games I have ever covered. The moment was everything for Huntington North and for Wayne, we kind of felt like we saw the last of the really good Wayne teams for maybe a long time. Let’s face it, sometimes with Fort Wayne Community Schools teams, the success doesn’t circle back as quick as you would like.
Four years later, Wayne are Sectional champions. And they’ve done it in a way unlike any other, winning two games in one day, both is nail biting fashion.
Just Saturday morning, Wayne beat a more than game South Side team in the semi final on the hands of Jevon Lewis at the free throw line with under ten seconds to go. It was a game nobody was really prepared to play, forced to Saturday because of winter weather on the typical semi final Friday night. And unlike years in the past, this Sectional didn’t move their championship round to the next day, instead opted to play the day like the old Regional or current semi state round: win twice to hoist a trophy.
It was a kind of adversity that Wayne talked about when the game was postponed on Friday, staying after school to get in another practice. It was that preparation and finding the right way to treat the day that helped propel Wayne to their title.
“This was kind of like an AAU format so we tried to do that. We stayed in Columbia City after the first game. We had sleeping bags, we had air mattresses and we just bonded as a family,” Pickens said. “I feel like when you do those little things outside of the court, they tend to translate on the court.”
So Wayne won their morning game, as expected even if not how they expected. Then Lewis did it again. On the heels of a quiet night by normal Jevon Lewis terms, he buried a shot a the buzzer that felt like took forever to go down. He ran around like a mad man, fans spilled onto the floor and Pickens, he just quietly walked to the end of the bench, stoned faced yet emotional in an all-time moment for Wayne athletics, let alone basketball.
Two games, two wins and Jevon Lewis doing things kids dream of doing.
“I work on tough shots every day, just for moments like this,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ heroics aside, Wayne felt like they were built for this. And they proved it throughout the game. While Jamison, who led all scorers with 29 points, was pure poetry for Homestead, it did not come easy. Wayne’s defense was tough every stretch of the way and they flexed their depth throughout the game and never let Homestead get comfortable. Jamison will get the credit he gets coming out this game not because of the 29 points but because of how he got it. Wayne’s defense hounded him and he just was too good. Wayne’s defense hounded everyone else too and it built up an early gap for the Spartans.
It took 10 and a half minutes for Homestead’s other backcourt star Kyron Kaopuiki to get off a good look at the basket and finally score. Chase Barnes, Monte Smith, Preston Comer, Marquette Lee and Lewis all made life tough on the perimeter for Homestead while HJ Dillard and Zaire Sullivan were tough inside and made nothing easy for the Spartan bigs on the glass. Sullivan, perhaps, is the most unsung hero of the game but he came in and went to work physically, causing tough shots for Homestead and even made a diving play in the third quarter on an errant Homestead pass that swayed some important momentum Wayne’s way.
Defense and depth. It will win you a lot of basketball games and Wayne has that in droves.
“Defense was very important. They are good players, they hit tough shots all game, you can’t knock them,” Lewis said.
Offensively, it was Barnes that paced Wayne much of the way after the opening minutes. While Comer hit the big first pacing shots of the game for the Generals, Barnes really showed a willingness to do battle with Jamison, matching him tic for tac during stretches of the game showing off his impressive midrange pull up game with a willingness to get to the rim and slip around the collapsing Homestead defense.
When it came to the last shot, the game said Barnes was probably taking it. The experience thought that it would be Lewis. For Pickens though, it was about trust no matter who took it but also another statement for Lewis to make in a year where he has been one of the best players in the area.
“During the pregame speech, I told the boys to believe. And I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t believe in them,” Pickens said. “It means the world and it also means that college coaches need to be calling Jevon Lewis, because he can do the same thing for their program.”
The Generals advance to next week’s Regional title game against Noblesville, but that is a tale for another time. For now, just one more message of appreciation to Wayne and how tough, intelligent and special they have been playing.
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