The Lake Central High School boys basketball team features experienced players who have been working together both on and off the court for years. But in that roster of upperclassmen, sophomore Derek Hobbs is entrusted with the keys to the offense as the starting point guard.
At first glance, the 5-foot-11 guard may seem a bit out of place given his age, size and more limited experience. But once the game starts, he is instantly integral to the team’s success as the sectionals kick off Tuesday and Lake Central goes for the championship.
Hobbs has been tackling daunting tasks all his life. At the age of two, he learned to dribble a basketball, and his game reflects years of fine-tuning from hard practice. As a freshman, Coach Dave Milausnic thrust Hobbs into the starting five. When Hobbs sets his mind to do something, it seems there is no stopping him.
“I really wanted to improve my shooting range to get better looks,” Hobbs said about accelerating his game for his second season.
The sophomore showcased his improved shooting early in the season in a November game against Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy (Gary). He scored 19 points to help Lake Central (St. John) win a shootout score of 86-82. The second-year point guard has scored double digit points three times this season.
It’s hard enough fitting in on the court with players who have played together for three or more years, but coming in as a wide-eyed freshman, Hobbs had to make his impressions off the court as well.
“The hardest part about being a freshman [on varsity] was that, at first, I didn’t know anyone,” Hobbs said. “I didn’t have good team chemistry.”
But teammates showed support as they took a liking to him. Two seniors in particular, Keon Sellers and Conner Tomasic, bonded with Hobbs and became close friends.
“We definitely have developed a very funny rapport over the season and a half we’ve been together,” Tomasic said. “We just mesh well together, and can mess with each other without the other getting hurt. If someone had a bad game, we can always mess with them, without them getting mad.”
Sellers and Hobbs have even developed a pregame tradition of eating together.
“Before every game, Derek and I go to Subway and get a sandwich,” Sellers said. “[We] just discuss how our game is going to play out, and what we need to do to win that game.”
As Hobbs has gotten more comfortable in his role, he’s also allowed his personality to shine through.
“The biggest difference in his personality this year is him being very sociable,” Tomasic said. “I don’t know if there’s ever a time when he’s not talking.”
On the court, Hobbs credits his teammates with teaching him to handle pressure, and feels that it is his biggest improvement over last season.
“He’s a lot more aggressive and he’s so smart with the ball,” Tomasic said. “He rarely makes the wrong read running the point.”
Losing in the sectional championship game last season to East Chicago Central High School left an impression on Hobbs that he hasn’t forgotten.
“Our team has been through a lot,” Hobbs said. “We still have a bad taste in our mouths from last year so we will come swinging for sectionals this year.”
For a few of his teammates, including Sellers and Tomasic, this season will be their fourth and final attempt to win a sectional championship. Hobbs will have two more chances after this season.
“Our team has a strong bond because we get along with each other well,” Sellers said. “And we just want to do whatever it takes to win games and win sectionals, so we can cut down a net at our house.”
The Lake Central Sectional commences Tuesday and the Indians’ first game takes place Wednesday against Crown Point High School. The two teams met earlier in February, with the Crown Point Bulldogs winning the game 55-52.
Looking ahead, both Tomasic and Sellers believe that Hobbs’ experience will be important as he becomes an upperclassmen.
“I think this program is in really goods hands after the seniors leave,” Tomasic said. “Derek will be capable enough to lead that team with his experience.”