Waukegan’s historic gym, nicknamed the “Dog Pound,” was redone last summer. It’s a high school basketball palace, home to one of the great shots in state history (Jereme Richmond’s just past half-court buzzer-beater in 2009) and countless classic sectional games.
The Dog Pound had a new court, new lights and a sparkle to it this season. The basketball team was supposed to add to that glitter.
The Bulldogs were ranked ninth in the preseason and the team wasn’t pulling any punches with their quotes in the first week of the season.
“They want huge things,” Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw said. “Historic talk. We are eons from that, but the arrows are pointed in that direction.”
It wasn’t to be. The Bulldogs finished 11-16, 4-10 in the North Suburban and lost in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
How did a season with so much promise fall apart? How does Ashlaw pick up the pieces and mold Waukegan into a contender next season? The Bulldogs’ talented junior class, led by the three unrelated Browns (Bryant, Jordan, Ja’Dyn) all return.
Waukegan is a basketball town and Ashlaw says feelings about this season’s struggles are still a bit raw. But Ashlaw has always been the type of guy to step up and answer difficult questions, something he had several opportunities to prove during the Richmond years.
Ashlaw says there were two major factors to the Bulldogs’ problems this season: the lack of a point guard and depth issues.
“[Point guard] was a massive missing piece for us,” Ashlaw said. “You need that guy that is the first touch of the possession. It all extends from that first touch, that first decision. We were in so many close games late and some were lost because we had so many bad decisions down the stretch.”
Ja’Dyn Brown was academically ineligible and missed the entire second semester.
“It really flatlined our team,” Ashlaw said. “It stung him. Maybe that is a really hard lesson learned. I think he’ll be ok. It’s about having a commitment to doing what is necessary. It will be the same in college. Those are schools, not basketball clubs. They have professors and libraries.”
Right around the same time Bryant Brown, an All-Area player, went down for four games with an injury.
“That was after our big win at Lincoln,” Ashlaw said. “We lost 46 points per game. It took away any momentum we had. Bryant came back but we had other guys go down. We used 17 different starting lineups out of 27 games.
“Everyone says ‘next man up.’ The next man up often had an ice bag on his knee or on his thigh. We were in constant retool mode.”
Bryant Brown persevered through all the turmoil and had a fabulous season. The 6-5 forward averaged 23.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.6 blocks. There isn’t a more under-recruited player in the entire state, he’s a force on both ends of the floor.
“That’s starting to change,” Ashlaw said. “My phone has been popping with calls recently.”
The point guard problem has also been solved. Andre White transferred in from Harlem during the season. He’ll be eligible to play next season. White was a highly-touted freshman at Loyola. He had an excellent sophomore season at Harvest Christian before sitting out most of last year.
“[White] will be one of the best point guards I’ve coached,” Ashlaw said. “He grew up in Waukegan so all the other guys played with him or against him in middle school.”
The Bulldogs will have the talent in place to be one of the state’s best teams next season. Depth may still be an issue, but the point guard has arrived. The Browns will be itching to prove they were worthy of so much early attention and White, on his fourth school, will want to live up to his early hype.
“That’s always a good thing,” Ashlaw said. “But I don’t think we lost the guys last year. Every bit of our potential was there. We played six games against teams that were in supersectionals and went 3-3. The commitment to doing the necessary things just needs to reaffirmed.”
Don’t be surprised to see Waukegan in Peoria in March. Don’t be surprised if Bryant Brown wins the Player of the Year award next season. The sky is still the limit for the Bulldogs.
“[Bryant Brown] has a huge basketball future in front of him,” Ashlaw said. “He’s a great teammate and a really good player. It’s just the kind of kid he is.”Tags: Waukegan