LAKE CHARLES – Brian Thomas drove down the heart of Ouachita’s defense for an emphatic slam dunk that gave Walker High a five-point lead with 1:09 to play, sending an unmistakable jolt of energy through his team and green-and-gold-clad faithful Thursday in the crowd at Burton Coliseum.
Sensing the Wildcats had done enough to cement their state semifinal victory, a contest that proved to be an uphill climb for the majority of the game, teammates jumped for joy. They individually approached Thomas, who was fouled on the play, to offer congratulations, the last being Kevin Brady.
“It’s unreal,” Brady said. “I would have never thought of this. It’s amazing. I feel like it’s a dream.”
Depending on the scenario, typically Brady would have found himself cheering on those same teammates from the bench where the junior swingman has served in a reserve role for much of the season.
With Walker facing possible elimination from the Class 5A state tournament, and a determined, athletic opponent in Ouachita that had the Wildcats defense on their heels for three quarters of the evening, it was Brady who had his number called to help become part of the solution to their existing problems on defense.
Walker coach Anthony Schiro credited his coaching staff of Donnie Goodson, Eric Cook and Connor Locke for suggesting that Brady get the opportunity to bring his greatest attribute – defense – to the floor.
Like his teammates, which faced adversity for nearly 29 minutes of the 32-minute games, Brady responded in a big way – primarily in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats limited the Lions to three field goals and went on to a 53-48 victory to advance to the state championship game.
“They came to me about Kevin and how he would give us everything we needed defensively,” Schiro said of his assistant coaches. “He’s going to go out there and guard, he’s going to hustle. He’s not going to try and do too much. He’s going to be solid and that kid came up big. He has all kinds of heart.”
The final offensive statistics – 0 points on 0-of-2 shooting – didn’t do him any justice or begin to tell of Brady’s actual impact on the game.
“I go in and strictly play defense,” he said. “That’s my role and I know my role. I’m just glad to come off the bench and support my team in whatever we had to do.”
While he was credited with two assists, including a feed to Jalen Cook for a 3-pointer at the 5:38 mark of the fourth quarter, Brady put his season-high 15 minutes of playing time to better use on the defensive end.
Ouachita appeared to be on the verge of opening a four-point lead when Brady was involved in what Schiro felt was arguably the turning point in the game, closing down toward the baseline for a block of a layup attempt by 6-5 center Phil Bradford.
The loose ball bounced right to Cook, who ignited a fastbreak which he converted into a game-tying layup at 43-43 with 5:09 showing.
“I just felt I could block that shot,” Brady said. “I felt it was a turning point for my team and to get some energy going. Honestly, I thought they were going to call a foul. I’m just glad they didn’t.”
Said Cook, who grew up playing biddy basketball with Brady: “He just hustles and plays hard. He plays from his heart and when you play from your heart anything can happen.”
Brady, a wide receiver on Walker’s football team, poured out his heart once again with the Wildcats holding onto a 48-45 lead and the clock approaching two minutes to play.
Cook passed the ball inside to Thomas who had the ball knocked loose where it slowly rolled on the floor, attracting a mass of bodies that gave chase.
Brady’s hustle took him right to the ball where he secure it, helping the Wildcats maintain possession after Schiro was able to call timeout.
Cook was one of the first players to applaud Brady for his efforts and for enjoying the game of his life that also included three rebounds, two of which were on the offensive end.
“He covered it up like a fumble, he is a football player,” Schiro joked. “His hustle, heart and determination are second to nobody. I couldn’t be prouder of Kevin with what he did coming in on this stage at this time. To do the things he did for us was a key for us.”
Said Brady: “This is the biggest stage I’ve ever played on. It means a lot. It means a lot to contribute so much. I’m just happy to go to the state championship.”
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