NORTH CENTER — Noah Khan knows a boost of motivation is just a text message away.
The Lane Tech junior point guard consistently communicates with Jason "J-Mac" McElwain, the former boys basketball manager who captured the nation's heart after he scored 20 points in four minutes at the end of his team's last regular-season home game in 2006. McElwain, who has high-functioning autism and won the ESPY Best Moment in Sports award that year, is now an assistant coach at the school he made famous, Greece Athena High School in Rochester, N.Y.
McElwain has become close with many of the Lane Tech players, whom he met over the summer at a prestigious basketball camp. He also visited Chicago for three days in November, staying at Indians head coach Nick LoGalbo's home and spending a day speaking to Lane students.
"The amount of work and dedication he has for basketball is insane," said Noah, 17, of Logan Square, whose 11-16 squad plays Amundsen High School in Monday's first round of the IHSA Class 4A Maine South Sectional.
"He's always thinking about basketball 24/7, and it makes me want to work 10 times harder," Noah said, who noted McElwain texts him several times a week, always providing advice on how he can become a better leader.
McElwain, whose team will vie for a sectional championship on Saturday, said he's been impressed with the Indians' showings from afar this season. He was especially pleased with Lane's near upset of Simeon in the city playoff, where the Indians led after three quarters before falling 54-42.
"They should be proud of their team," said McElwain, 26. "They've given everything they have and left everything on the floor."
LoGalbo, a Lane Tech alumnus who's been a coach in the program for nine seasons and head coach for six, first met McElwain three years ago at the Snow Valley Iowa Basketball School — which was showcased in Sports Illustrated as one of the country's top camps for learning individual fundamentals. For the first two years, LoGalbo lived with McElwain in a college dorm and was amazed by the latter's seemingly never-ending amount of energy.
"I personally don't know if I've ever met anyone who's more motivated about life," said LoGalbo, 31, of Portage Park. "You can't help but be affected by it."
McElwain said LoGalbo "is a little like me: passionate, loves the game, loves the kids being successful. He's always working at it no matter what, always trying to better his craft and doing whatever it takes."
Last summer, LoGalbo was joined in Iowa by 21 Indians players, and McElwain began to mold impactful relationships. They were further cemented in November, when McElwain and the Indians attended a Northwestern University men's hoops game. Noah said McElwain spent the entire time critiquing the Lane players, and cited Noah's need to improve defensively.
Despite the Indians' sub-.500 record, junior power forward Alec Krilis said McElwain's impact on the team has been "monumental," especially when he told the team they needed to consider themselves a "family."
"Our whole concept of trusting each other and being there for each other is because of him," said Alec, 17, of Edgewater Glen.
Alec also said McElwain taught his club life lessons. During lunch hour, Alec now frequently will ask special education students to eat with him and his teammates. And McElwain stressed to be careful on social media, saying "you're only one Twitter picture or Facebook picture from ruining your life and career."
McElwain's main mantra is "You have one life, so live it." He qualified for this year's Boston Marathon and hopes to break the three-hour mark. In his last marathon, he finished in 3:00.46.
McElwain said he wants to become a college basketball head coach. During practices, he'll still dive on the floor for loose balls.
"I give it everything I have," McElwain said. "I try to show our players not to have any fear."
His passion has more than rubbed off on the Indians.
"He's an amazing person," Noah said. "And he's been great to be around."