It was a different feeling this season. 

Lake Land head coach Julian Larry believes the Lakers took another step in the right direction this season. After posting the most wins in five seasons, Larry’s third year featured ups and downs but that season came to an end with a 79-67 defeat to No. 14 ranked Vincennes in the Region 24 semifinals on Monday. 

“From the outside looking in, some might see the same record from a year ago,” said Larry. “The key is that you see the players play with chemistry. This was a step in the right direction.”

The Lakers battled the 14th-best team in the country in both halves. The team trailed 39-28 at halftime but tried to rally in the second half, getting outscored only 40-39. Yassen Hussein led the Lakers with 21 points, while Amar Kuljuhovic added another double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds. 

The two sophomores played their final game for Lake Lake and Larry said that both were very important to the program’s change in the last two seasons. 

“They have been very important leaders to this team,” said Larry. “Yassen has been here for three years because he was my COVID sophomore. He’s been here since I was a head coach. Amar always works extremely hard. I can’t wait to see what they do in the future.”

The future is bright for the Lakers as the team graduates only five sophomores, but four of those sophomores often found themselves in the starting lineup. Johnny Close, Arnardo Camacho, and Daillis Cox spent a large time in the starting lineup and will also graduate. 

“Johnny played a huge role for the team this year,’ said Larry. “He was in the top five in three-point percentage in the country. He has been playing extremely well.”

The future will feature freshman Tyler Chapman, who closed out the final third of the season in the starting lineup. The team will also have former Mattoon High School players Cam’Ron Thomas and Malik Carter-Smith on the team next season. 

“Tyler played very well for us down the stretch,” said Larry. “He has the speed and defense that puts him in a position to be successful. Cam’Ron and Malik developed every day on and off the court. They weren’t ready this year but were developing. I think they are going to help us out a ton next year.”

As this year ends, the next year will already begin. With back-to-back winning seasons, Larry’s hope is that the team can continue to grow and get to the 20-win mark, something that hasn’t happened in quite a while in Mattoon. 

“The feel for the team was different this year,” said Larry. “It was more team ball. We had ups and downs but we had some pretty big wins too. We beat a top-15-ranked team a couple of times. We had some key moments that I see as successes pointing in the right direction. Every game we competed in except for four. We had the lead in the second half but it was a matter of us not handling adversity well. We want to get to 20 wins and finish a year strong and hopefully go to nationals. We just need to continue to strive for that goal and work on that.”