ELKHART — The transfer of junior standout Cory Waycaster to Jimtown over winter break could’ve been a devastating break for the Elkhart Christian boys basketball team, but along came Caleb Stayton to help break the possible fall.
Now the Eagles are winning again with the help of their newest teammate, who’s also an old teammate.
And over at Jimtown, the Jimmies and Waycaster are busy learning each other on the fly, with coach Ron Dietz saying he’s hopeful there will be noticeable dividends before the season is out.
ECA (10-5) plays tonight, Feb. 1, at Bethany Christian (3-11), while the Jims (5-9) pay a visit to Bremen (8-6) in a pair of traditional rivalry games.
“When we lost Cory, Caleb saw there was a need, and initially I think it was just coming out to help us at practices,” Eagles coach Ryan Culp said of the senior showing up during winter break, “but then he says, ‘Whatever you need, just let me know,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean whatever we need?’ I said, ‘Like, if you were asked to play on game night, would you be interested?’ And he said, ‘I would.’”
ECA was 5-1 when Waycaster transferred due to financial considerations.
The Eagles went 2-3 in their next five games, but now they’ve gone 3-1 in the four since Stayton became eligible after completing 10 practices as required by the IHSAA.
The most recent was a 59-51 home win Tuesday over Jimtown and the returning Waycaster.
A muscular 6-foot-3, Stayton contributed eight points and three rebounds off the bench. He’s averaging 6.3 points and 4.0 boards in his backup role.
“We talked with the coaches and the captains before we made that decision to have him join us, and it was unanimous in wanting him to join what we’re doing,” Culp said. “He gives us an interior presence, and more of a balance to our offensive attack.”
Stayton played basketball for ECA as a sophomore, but had since stepped away in favor of his promising baseball career that has yielded him a forthcoming spot at Ball State.
Culp thinks Stayton’s impact on the basketball team is going to keep increasing.
“Caleb came in with a limited understanding of what sets we need to run and how to run them,” Culp said. “We’re still not calling certain things when he’s out there until he’s ready, but I think he will be.”
For Waycaster, the challenge may be even greater. Not only are new plays being learned, but so, too, are entirely new teammates in the middle of a season in which he had already played elsewhere.
At ECA, Waycaster was averaging 13.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.2 steals.
At Jimtown, he’s played in four games, but it was not until Tuesday’s homecoming of sorts that he saw substantial action.
Waycaster scored five points to go with a team-high six rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot, but was just 2 of 8 from the field.
“He plays hard,” Dietz said. “He doesn’t know the offenses and defenses yet — he just hasn’t been with us long enough — but he plays hard.”
After the game, Waycaster and Culp shared a hug, with the coach giving his former player a brief pep talk.
“Cory’s a great player, and just like Caleb with us, it’s going to take Cory a bit of time to get accustomed to Jimtown’s offense, but when he does, he’s going to be very good,” Culp said. “Until then, he’s going to have to think through certain situations instead of just playing, but I think he’s going to be fine.”