Braeden Carlsen knew Wauconda would have a different identity this season after four veteran players graduated.
Through 10 games, the 6-foot-4 junior wing’s ability to score at will has been the primary storyline for the young Bulldogs.
“Last year there were four scorers ahead of me, so my job was to help get those guys baskets,” Carlsen said. “With players like that, you sacrifice your role. My mindset has totally changed now, though. This is my team.”
Carlsen wasted no time to provide proof. He scored 39 points, including 20 in the first quarter, in a win against Marian Central Catholic on Nov. 22.
He headed into Thursday averaging 26.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals for the Bulldogs (5-5, 1-2), who went 25-4 and won the Northern Lake County Conference last season.
Wauconda coach Ty Weidner had an inkling Carlsen’s scoring might take off when he noticed a stark improvement in the mechanics on Carlsen’s shot, especially in his release point, during preseason workouts.
“Being able to score both inside and outside makes him really dangerous,” Weidner said. “Teams are completely adjusting their defenses to him, and he’s seeing a lot of different looks.”
That included a box-and-one utilized by Grayslake North on Dec. 14 and aggressive switching by Lakes three days later. Each brings a distinct set of conditions to work through and are in stark contrast to the zones the Bulldogs often faced earlier in the season.
“I take it as a compliment, but it can get kind of annoying,” Carlsen said. “Sometimes I just want to be able to breathe. But I have confidence that I can score against whatever is thrown at me.”
Bardic on point: The more Aidan Bardic plays, the more he feels at home.
As Stevenson thrives on balance and cohesion, the 6-3 sophomore point guard is increasingly displaying the traits necessary to help keep affairs running smoothly.
“It’s a confidence thing, knowing that my coaches and teammates trust me to run the offense,” Bardic said. “I can score a decent amount, but I really need to facilitate and make sure everyone’s engaged and locked in. That’s my job for the next few years.”
Bardic, whose older sister Ava won a state title with the Stevenson girls basketball team in March, scored a career-best 19 points in a win against Carmel on Saturday. He also had six rebounds, four assists and a steal, offering a vivid statistical example of his value to the Patriots (8-1).
But there’s even more to his overall profile.
“He’s really gritty and has some moxie to him,” Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. “That can show up in a lot of different ways.”
One of those ways is simply how Bardic approaches a game. Knowing he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot, he tries to ensure he’s actively engaged while also giving the opposing defense as much to think about as possible.
“I like to attack the basket to start the game,” Bardic said. “It gives me confidence knowing that I can get to the basket later. It’s nice to get my feet wet and helps as I feel the game out.”
Chajet’s cachet: With a largely inexperienced roster, first-year Carmel coach Dmitry Pirshin entered the season looking for dependable players who could give the team quality minutes.
Jacob Chajet, a 6-3 junior wing, has carved out a valuable niche with a trait that any coach could cherish.
“He can guard multiple positions, almost anyone 1-5,” Pirshin said. “He understands the matchup of whoever he’s guarding, and it makes it so that he can come in for almost anyone.”
Pirshin is alluding to Chajet’s entry into a game, most often as the Corsairs’ first player off the bench. Having a versatile reserve like Chajet is a luxury.
“We’re still kind of figuring out our roles, and if that means me coming off the bench, I’m happy to do whatever the team needs,” Chajet said. “I’m pretty long, so I can wrap up smaller players, and I’ve got enough speed to cut people off if they try to drive.”
Although defense is usually the initial reason he checks into a game, Chajet isn’t one-dimensional. He can score, too, as evidenced by the 21 points he recorded at St. Viator on Dec. 16. That effort included five 3-pointers.
As Chajet continues to adapt to the rigors of varsity basketball, he’s enjoying the ride, even with Carmel (4-9) struggling to win with its rugged schedule.
“Playing on this level is a lot more intense, but it’s fun,” he said. “I like seeing the different skill levels, and we’ll enjoy things more once we turn things around.”
Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.