O’Brien: What went wrong in Waukegan this season?

Waukegan's Bryant Brown (25) backs Zion-Benton's Joshua Meeks (50) out of the lane. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

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.

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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.”

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10 comments

  • Norm

    I have nothing against Waukegan but it seems their history is a little overrated. Outside of the Richmond years and the 2017 team I can’t think of many regionals they’ve won in the last 40 years. It’s been about 45 years since the late, great Jerome Whitehead played.

    • Wauktown

      .
      Boys Basketball
      State Final Qualifier (5): 1958-59, 1968-69, 1974-75 (AA), 2008-09 (4A), 2009-10 (4A).
      District (8): 1923-24, 1924-25, 1927-28, 1928-29, 1929-30, 1930-31, 1931-32, 1932-33.
      Regional (30): 1935-36, 1936-37, 1939-40, 1941-42, 1945-46, 1946-47, 1950-51, 1958-59, 1960-61, 1962-63, 1963-64, 1964-65, 1967-68, 1968-69, 1973-74 (AA), 1974-75 (AA), 1981-82 (AA), 1984-85 (AA), 1985-86 (AA), 1986-87 (AA), 1987-88 (AA), 1992-93 (AA), 1997-98 (AA), 2002-03 (AA), 2003-04 (AA), 2004-05 (AA), 2005-06 (AA), 2008-09 (4A), 2009-10 (4A), 2016-17 (4A).
      Sectional (10): 1958-59, 1960-61, 1962-63, 1968-69, 1973-74 (AA), 1974-75 (AA), 2003-04 (AA), 2004-05 (AA), 2008-09 (4A), 2009-10 (4A).
      Super-Sectional (5): 1958-59, 1968-69, 1974-75 (AA), 2008-09 (4A), 2009-10 (4A).
      4th (1): 1958-59.
      3rd (1): 2009-10 (4A).
      2nd (1): 2008-09 (4A).
      Waukegan West-Regional (2): 1982-83 (AA), 1989-90 (AA).

  • Scott Sunday

    Big Bulldog fan here. Good article. Hope you are correct. Depth was a killer this year … onlyva few players could put the ball in the basket.

  • Donna Dallas

    Come on Brown boys, next season is YOURS!!!

  • Jack Lydon

    This exlpains your obsession with Waukegan all season.

  • Jack Lydon

    This explains your obsession with Waukegan all year.

  • High School Hoops Fan

    Travel, they are a lot closer to schools in their current conference, versus going to Evanston or Niles West for a weekday sporting event. Simple as that I’m guessing. They were a geographic outlier in the CSL, and now they have teams in their backyard to play.

  • Duke Carnoustie

    We miss Waukegan in the CSL. They were great opponents and our teams relished the long trip up there to play in the Dog Pound. It’s a tradition-laden program that brought a lot to the CSL. I don’t know why this decision was made. It really hurt the CSL fan base even though we enjoyed historic success last season.

    Bring back the Bulldogs!

    • CP3

      Waukegan playing Basketball in the CSL made sense but the #’s in terms of students competing in other sports isn’t there for Waukegan. Next season’s basketball team will be a high powered one with Andre White Jr, creating an interesting matchup should they meet Evanston down the line at Supers or State.

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