PREP PROFILE: Patriots' unicorn Walters helps fuel hot streak

Feb. 22—There's a unicorn among us, whether he's been noticed or not.

As Terre Haute North's high school basketball team rides a 17-game winning streak into its Friday night game at Evansville North, it's bound to get some contributions from senior Braden Walters, who leads the Patriots in rebounds, assists and steals.

Although he doesn't shoot often, he's also second on the team in scoring. And the best thing he does hasn't been mentioned yet.

Walters doesn't lead the Patriots in blocked shots — he trails both 6-foot-7 Jack Halls and team leader Bryce Renn, now 6-10 according to his father, in that department — but he's the key to a team defense that's one of the best in the state. Third in Class 4A, the Patriots haven't allowed as many as 50 points in a game since a 58-54 Dec. 21 win at Class 3A power Evansville Memorial.

North's most recent game was a 30-point win over Evansville Harrison, a team that flirted with the top 10 in Class 4A until then (with the Patriots now in the 11th spot in the poll) and Walters guarded a player scoring in double figures and shut him out. When the Patriots play man-to-man defense, he can guard any of the five spots — which isn't that surprising, since he can play all five spots offensively too.

"He's just different," coach Todd Woelfle said this week. "And he's a winner."

In his four seasons of varsity basketball, the transfer from Linton has played on teams that have won 94 games and lost only 15, including a perfect sectional record and a state runner-up finish a year ago. It's not a coincidence, Woelfle says now and Joey Hart emphasized the three previous seasons. "It shows what kind of teammate he is," Woelfle said this week.

The player himself is not impressed.

"I've got really good teammates; everybody is real close," he said this week in describing his year with the Patriots. "It's a fun team to play with, fun to be around."

"Braden is unique as a basketball player," Woelfle said. "He can have an effect, sometimes even control a game without scoring a ton of points. He has size [6-5], athleticism and skill, and his basketball IQ is off the charts.

"He knows where everyone is supposed to be. He knows their skill sets and he puts our players in position to be successful — while also knowing what the opponents are doing."

"My teammates make me better and I feel like I make them better," Walters said.

He used to be a scorer when he was younger, Walters added, "but as I got older, I played into a [different] role."

Woelfle describes Walters as "an old soul," who spent a good deal of his time in Linton accompanying "old Joe" Hart to Burger King for coffee and the solving of Greene County's problems with some of the other senior citizens in town. With the senior Hart in failing health — he passed away Sept. 1 — and with Joey Hart no longer coaching, Walters moved on, much to Woelfle's delight.

"He's an elite defender and he can score and play in the post. He's brought a sense of toughness to the defensive end," Woelfle said. "I think he's worthy of being an Indiana All-Star — if you're playing [against other all-star teams] and there's somebody you have to stop, he's your man."

That would make him perhaps the lowest-scoring All-Star ever but, as Woelfle says, "If you understand the game, you understand his value . . . and his unselfishness."

For his part, Walters is looking forward to Friday's game and the tournament games that follow.

"I feel like we can make a great run [in the state tournament]," he said. "Early in the season, we couldn't score. But now we just need to keep playing the way we've been playing."