Confident, improving Waukegan holds off Fremd

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Waukegan’s Bryant Brown (25) cuts into the lane against Fremd, Wednesday 03-06-19. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Waukegan’s historic old gym is the perfect setting for high school basketball. The court is a sunken stage, giving the fans the feeling that they are just an arm’s length from the court. It elevates the experience, especially during a jam-packed sectional game.

Current Waukegan seniors Bryant Brown and Andre White Jr. grew up watching games in Lake County’s basketball palace. Brown is the city’s current star. He recently became the leading scorer in school history, another line on an impressive four-year varsity resume.

White Jr. is the town’s prodigal son. He played his freshman year at Loyola, sophomore year at Harvest Christian and junior year at Harlem. This season he returned, filling a vital gap at point guard.

“We were hoping fresh out of middle school that he would come to Waukegan,” Brown said. “I’m just glad he came home. We’ve been playing with him forever, since third grade, since we were babies. We are happy to have our brother home.”

Brown and White each hit two free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the Bulldogs’ 52-50 win against Fremd in the Class 4A Waukegan sectional semifinal.

“I’ve been waiting on this my whole life, playing in front of a big crowd in my hometown,” White Jr. said. “It just felt good.”

Brown led Waukegan (28-5) with 18 points and nine rebounds. The Bulldogs were 11-for-11 from the free-throw line.

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“The last three weeks we’ve been talking about sharpen the saw, sharpen the saw,” Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw said. “There were certain things we knew we needed to spend time with and shooting free throws was one of them.”

The Bulldogs led 30-23 at halftime. Fremd (22-6), which beat Waukegan in late December, tied the game at 40 on two free throws by Dean Ganas with 5:27 to play.

Brown responded with three-point play and the Bulldogs led from then on.

“I felt like we were in control,” White Jr. said. “There was no worry in my mind that we were going to lose the lead. I thought we were running things from the opening tip.”

White Jr. had nine points and six assists. Jaylin Cunningham finished with 11 points and senior Jordan Brown added nine points, including a clutch, stylish fast-break basket with 2:26 to play.

Ashlaw’s senior dominated group never seemed fazed by the pressure.

“I live for stuff like this,” Bryant Brown said. “I love the environment. The whole town pretty much comes out to see this. It’s really exciting and I’m glad we could get the win.”

Senior John Smryos led Fremd with 14 points. Junior Kayman Hopkins had 13 points and 12 rebounds and Jake Schoffstall scored eight. The Vikings have been one of the area’s top programs over the last few seasons.

Waukegan will host Stevenson in the sectional final on Friday. The Patriots beat the Bulldogs twice this season.

“We had so much room for growth,” Ashlaw said. “It takes a season to build a team. We had a nice cake at the beginning. We just want to keep adding layers to that same cake. This team is loaded with seniors, guys that want to do something. This 28 wins is the most in school history.”

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