Photo courtesy of Colossal Sports Magazine.
By David Cordova
In this day and age, the prep school scene has become a very common theme for young athletes. Gone are the days in which players take pride in being the man in their town, their city and even their state. Going to a boarding school gives a player a chance to get their academics in order and also gain more exposure from prospective colleges and also a chance to improve their level of play, competing against some of the country’s best programs.
One school in the Midwest that offers top-flight exposure is the La Lumiere School, a private boarding and day school located in the town of La Porte, Indiana, which is nearly three hours away from Indianapolis, and is near the border of the state of Michigan.
La Lumiere, with a campus that has 190 acres, is a small school with an enrollment of over 200 students, has a student-teacher ratio of 7:1, which means that their students get individualized attention on the daily and can easily receive tutoring with their academics.
But one thing that has helped bring attention to the secondary institution is the play of their basketball program. “The mission of the basketball program here at La Lumiere is to enhance the image of our school and bring national attention to our school,” said La Lumiere head coach Shane Heirman.
And that is something that they have done the last few years. Heirman, a young coach who is in his third season at the helm, has compiled an 82-7 record in his time there and has built the program into a national powerhouse. Laker alums that have come out of the school include: Hanner Perea-Mosquea (East Tennessee State), Jalen Coleman-Lands (Illinois), Brandon Cyrus (DePaul) and James Banks (Texas).
Last season, the Lakers compiled a 27-4 record and faced some tough competition in the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals Tournament in New York, beating St. Benedict’s Prep (NJ) and Montverde Academy (FL), in which they would advance to the championship game at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, where they would play perennial powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (VA). For most of the game, La Lumiere was in control, but then Oak Hill would come back and then within the final seconds, the Warriors’ senior center Khadim Sy would make a tip-in at the buzzer to win the game for Oak Hill, 62-60.
For the Lakers, it was a stunning end to a season in which they made their presence felt throughout the country as an elite program, but to not come out on top, really devastated the team. But as the 2016-17 season came on, their mission was simple, according to Coach Heirman: “Losing that title game was an incredible motivating factor for us, I think it was at the forefront of all our minds with our early morning workouts, after-school workouts, we talked it about it often and we didn’t to be a runner-up again.”
This season, the Lakers played another big-time national schedule, in events such as the Chick-Fil-A Classic in South Carolina and the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Massachussetts, and played against tough competition such as Oldsmar Christian (FL), Hamilton Heights Christian (TN) and Findlay Prep (NV) in which they won. Their lone loss of the season would be against Sierra Canyon (CA) at the Hoophall Classic on January 16th, by the score of 76-74.
The players on La Lumiere’s roster which helped them is filled with five-star talent such as McDonald’s All Americans in seniors Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Brian Bowen. Jackson, a 6-11 forward, is ranked the No. 16 player in the Class of 2017 by ESPN, and will be headed to Michigan State in the fall and Bowen, a 6-8 small forward is ranked No. 12 in the same ESPN rankings and still remains undecided, but is choosing between Arizona, Creighton, Michigan State, Texas, North Carolina State and DePaul.
Other notable players on this year’s squad is sophomore Tyger Campbell, an elite 6-0 point guard who is ranked No. 25 in the Class of 2019 that has plenty of collegiate attention. Other seniors who made their presence felt for the Lakers was 6-11 center Jacob Epperson, an Australian, who has already committed to Creighton, then there is Jordan Poole, a 6-5 guard who is signed to Michigan and 6-1 guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands, who still remains undecided. Other contributors are 6-9 junior forward Franklin Aguanne and 6-4 sophomore Paxson Wojcik.
This amazing group of talent helped compile a 26-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in the USA Today poll coming to the Dick’s Nationals tournament. But now that they had been to the title game, their only mission this time around was to win the championship.
In the quarterfinals, they dispatched Wasatch Academy (UT), 64-52, and in the semifinals against Findlay Prep, in which both teams played against each other for a second time during the season, the game remained close throughout four quarters, as both teams played a very tough game. But when it was all said and done, the Lakers escaped with a two-point victory, 54-52, over the Pilots.
Now, the Lakers would make another appearance in the Dick’s Nationals championship game, this time against Montverde. With the thought of the previous year’s defeat still int their minds, their whole plan was to leave New York with a win. “We stayed on the court for a little bit to see Oak Hill’s celebration,” said Campbell about the loss to Oak Hill, “So we saw everything that happened and that fueled the fire for us.”
Early on in the game, Montverde ran off to a comfortable lead up until the second quarter, in which La Lumiere threatened and cut the deficit to as many as one, 24-23, after a three-pointer by Bowen. But the Eagles would lead at halftime by one, 28-27.
The second half would determine the outcome for La Lumiere, as they came out inspired and finished the third quarter on a 20-10 run and lead, 47-38. But in the fourth quarter, the Eagles could not deny the Lakers as they started to run away with the lead. They then led by fourteen, 52-38, with 6:16 to go in the quarter and would then manage to stay composed for the rest of the game and then they finished out what they set out to do, win a national championship.
When the final buzzer sounded after La Lumiere’s 70-52 win, the scene resembled something out of a college atmosphere, with the team celebrating and the student section joining rushing on the court to share the joyous occasion of a win.
When asked what it felt like to be a national champion, Poole said, “I can’t even put it into words right now,” and then Bowen added: “Sensational.”
Also, in regards what this victory meant to the school, Heirman added: “I think we’ve already solidified ourselves as being on the map, but it’s an incredible testament especially to Eduardo [Maittin] and Isaiah [Coleman-Lands] who have been here for four years. It’s one thing to make this event [Dick’s Nationals], it’s another to win it, they did that and it’s an incredible amount of commitment and sacrifice, and so I don’t think it’s an arrival for us, but it’s definitely an establishment for us.”
When asked about what each member brought to the team, Heirman replied, “I think everybody collectively brings their own uniqueness and what’s special about this team is that guys can feed off of each other, guys have self-awareness, to be able to recognize strengths and weaknesses, and to let other guys fill those voids and to be able to sacrifice some ego.”
For most of the season Nathan Hale High School of Seattle, Washington, was considered by many to be the No. 1 team in the country, judging by their undefeated record of 29-0. At the time of the Dick’s Nationals, Hale had the top ranking according to USA Today, but after the title game, Heirman thought different, “Yeah, this is the No. 1 team in the country, and I believe that, no disrespect to Nathan Hale, it’s been an incredible season for those guys, but if you’re not willing to lace up for it and play for it, you ain’t No. 1.”
Due to the fact that Hale chose not to participate in the Dick’s Nationals’ event feeling they had nothing more to prove, it opened the door for La Lumiere to establish themselves as the top team. On April 4th, just three days after the championship game, USA Today released their final poll of the season and in the No. 1 slot read, “La Lumiere, 29-1.”
Now with this national championship under their belt, the goal now for the Lakers is to continue to maintain their place as an elite program and also to come back to Dick’s Nationals and defend their title next year. But for right now, the team is still letting it all sink in. They finished out the goal that they vowed to accomplish last season at the Garden, to become the national champions, to become the last team standing.
La Lumiere Highlights of the 2016-17 season:
Courtesy of In The Gym Hoops.
Courtesy of Courtside Films.
Courtesy of YBTV: Chicago Hoops Mixtapes.
Courtesy of ESPN.