The final chapter: Brandon Haraway writing the last sentence of family legacy

Mark Hazelwood • Feb 25, 2019 at 6:32 PM

To the eye, Brandon Haraway is composed.

On the court, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior guard at Norwalk is in control. He's not a vocal or demanding teammate. When the ball is in his hands, Norwalk players and coaches all say there is a sense of calm.

But that's because Haraway has five minutes to push out the nervousness from his head that takes over his body — every single time.

After he puts on his uniform before each game, just before Norwalk head coach Steve Gray and assistant coach Tom Foster enter the locker room, Haraway has to let it all out.

"Can't stop moving," he said.

He’s constantly going around in the same circle, alternating stretching with pacing — whatever he can do to avoid sitting still.

“I’m getting jitters out, and it's just an overwhelming feeling of excitement,” Haraway said.

In those moments, he envisions himself making key plays.

Haraway pictures making the game-winning free throw and defensive stop at Lexington, which gave Norwalk the No. 1 seed in its district. He sees himself going on a 12-0 scoring run in the fourth quarter of a key league game vs. Clyde — capped by a crossover that dropped a Flier defender to the floor on his way to a layup. That video has been played more than 50,000 times on social media.

"I just like to see myself doing those things, and I get a little bit anxious when I think about them," Haraway said.

But there is another reason for Haraway’s brief angst before each game. He’s not only a member of the ‘First Family of Norwalk basketball’ — he’s the baby.

Haraway is the last of a group of siblings and cousins that has taken Norwalk basketball to the pinnacle, rewriting the record books along the way.

"We're trying to leave a legacy, and I'm the last one to try and put a stamp on it,” Haraway said. “So I have to do what I can. Not just for my legacy at Norwalk, but the entire family.”

As the final games of his high-school career approach, what has he added to that legacy? Haraway has helped the Truckers (19-3) to a league championship and a state ranking in Division II.

In doing so, he’s also authored perhaps the best individual season in the last half-century of Norwalk basketball.


The quiet leader

Those who have watched Haraway play or competed against him see an explosive, talented player.

They see a scorer, physical rebounder and an elite defender.

“I’ve recruited hundreds of kids, and he’s in the top one percent of all defenders I’ve seen coming out of high school,” said Div. II Ashland University coach John Ellenwood, for whom Haraway will play, starting next season.

But few get to see what makes him that special player.

"People don't see him in the gym by himself on a Saturday afternoon the day of a game,” Gray said. “They don't see him coming in here 45 minutes before practice and getting in a couple hundred shots, even during football season.

“They just don't see the work he puts in when nobody else is around.”

What most everyone sees in Haraway is a calm, quiet presence.

“He’s definitely a leader by action and doesn’t get vocal unless he really has to,” said Austin Brown, the only other senior on the team. “There is a certain point he reaches, but it’s very rare.”

Haraway averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.9 steals and 0.7 blocks per game in the regular season — good for the top three in every category in the SBC Lake Division. He shot 49 percent from the floor and 74 percent at the free-throw line.

Though the other four starters together average just 26 points per game to his 21, Haraway is not a challenging player to his teammates.

“We just want everyone to work hard,” he said. “That's it. All we need to succeed is hard work, and that's what we have here.”

After a big slam-dunk, key basket or defensive play, Haraway will show small bursts of excitement and emotion. Sometimes it might be too strong, by his own admission.

But behind closed doors in practices? Rarely ever.

He’s essentially silent during team drills, other than calling out a set or yelling for help on defense. During breaks, he stands off to the side with the demeanor of a coach. He often puts his hands on his hips and crosses his legs during stoppages in games and practice — to conserve energy.

"People see his exuberance and enthusiasm after a big play,” Gray said. “That's something we really don't see a lot in practice. He leads more by example than talking.”


All in the family

Longtime Perkins coach Scott McVeigh knows what the ’12’ listed for “grade” on the roster means. He knows the math on four years of high school as well.

But after a 49-46 loss at Norwalk on Jan. 25, McVeigh just had to be sure.

“I asked Steve (Gray) that in pregame, ‘He’s really the youngest, right? There’s no more? OK, good,’” McVeigh said.

Few can blame McVeigh. He had quality teams that made two trips to regionals in a four-year span, but went 1-6 against Norwalk from 2011-14. When the Truckers came back down to Div. II in 2014, the Pirates lost to them three times, including in a district title game on Norwalk’s path to the state championship.

And that was largely because of Ben Haraway, Brandon’s oldest brother, and Jeff Thomas, his cousin. The Pirates went 2-5 vs. Norwalk in Brandon’s four seasons, though he missed one of the Perkins’ victories because of an injury — and they could potentially play again this week.

“The Haraway name and Perkins have been synonymous for some great games, but most of the time it was us coming out on the losing end of it,” McVeigh said. “That’s what I told Brandon after he burned us hopefully one last time after the game … I’m just glad he’s the last of the family. Great kid, great family — but I’m glad we don’t have to see him next year.”

Jeff Thomas scored 1,352 points at Norwalk (second all-time). Ben Haraway finished with 1,184 points (fourth all-time). Add in Jeff’s sister, Jiselle, who scored 2,023 points (first, all-time), and Brandon (1,066 points, eighth) and that represents four siblings/cousins who played on teams that won five league titles, three district titles and one regional and state championship.

Years of getting beat up and pushed in family battles has shaped the youngest of the family.

“He’s gone through a lot of things that most people don’t get the chance to go through,” said Ben, who is wrapping up a 1,500-point collegiate career, also at Ashland.

When Ben and Jeff were in fifth grade, Brandon was still trying to get out on the floor with them. He was just five years old, and predictably got pushed around.

But it all started with Brandon and Ben’s uncle — Jeff Thomas Sr., the father to Jeff and Jiselle. Almost in drill sergeant mode, Thomas Sr. put the kids through grueling workouts on and off the floor.

The intensity increased when Brandon was in sixth grade. Ben and Jeff were juniors, and the middle brother, Bryson, was a freshman. His other cousins were also several years older.

“But my uncle didn’t treat me any different,” Brandon said. “It was still the same hard work.”

If there was a hiccup during workouts, it meant a lap around the track at the Ernsthausen Center. No exceptions.

“If you didn’t come back motivated, you’d be right back on the track,” Brandon said. “It pushes you. It teaches you how to push through adversity, and that’s what I thank my uncle for.

“Some of these times in football, basketball or just life, I wouldn’t be able to push through if it wasn’t for him being there and coaching me up,” he added.

After every training session, Brandon had to play one-on-one and sometimes one-on-two. Sure, that was against family, but Jeff and Ben are also accomplished 1,000-point scorers at Georgia State University and Ashland.

No double-team in a high-school game could ever be as intimidating as that — and the same goes for the tough love.

“He was all over us, and we used to hate it so much,” Brandon said of Jeff Sr. “He wasn’t always very nice, but it’s the kind of thing you get used to. Then when you run into a demanding coach like Coach Gray, it’s nothing.

“I’ve had my uncle to scream at me all my life — so anyone else isn’t near as bad,” he added.

But despite all the years of being pushed around, Thomas Sr. said there is no mistaking Brandon gets the “youngest in the family treatment.”

“With Brandon being the last boy, he was everyone’s favorite that couldn’t do anything wrong,” Thomas Sr. said. “Every little thing he did, everyone cheered him on. But that’s led him to having the ultimate confidence in himself.”

That has included at home and in school — from the time he could walk.

“At family parties, Brandon would get up and dance for anyone who asked,” Thomas Sr. said. “He’s the only kindergartener in the family that would not only admit he had a girlfriend — but always claimed to having more than one.”


A clear path

It all could have been lost.

It was less than a week before his junior year of high school was to begin. Haraway had made the decision to not return to football because of a torn triceps tendon suffered the previous fall — which also cost him 18 of a possible 25 games of the 2016-17 basketball season.

Haraway had put himself in a bad position. He and several others were caught violating school and athletic rules, resulting in a suspension for the first five games of the 2017-18 season.

Yet, he had a solid season. He averaged 17.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game to earn All-Ohio special mention.

Haraway returned to football this past season as a senior, earning All-Ohio special mention at wide receiver as well. On the day he signed his scholarship at AU for basketball, just hours later he helped the Truckers beat Sandusky to reach the Div. III state semifinals.

But even then, circumstances proved costly. With Norwalk driving while facing a 14-6 deficit in the third quarter vs. Kettering Alter, Haraway was ejected in what amounted to a shoving match with an opposing player.

That cost him the first two games of basketball this season — giving him a total of 25 missed games because of injury and suspension.

Haraway knows it’s part of his story. He doesn’t hide from it.

“Because it was my fault,” he said. “I honestly don’t hear it a lot, but I did what I did and have to live with everything that comes with it.”

As a veteran coach who has seen it all, Gray offered a simpler perspective.

“Brandon made a poor decision, but I’m glad I’m not being judged by the stupid things I did before and during college,” he said. “I’d like to think I’m a different person now.

“And the suspension in football was a great travesty,” Gray added. “The official called what he thought he saw, which was something different than what actually happened. I think sports helps kids mature, and I think in some ways Brandon has grown from what has happened.”

With an outright league championship and state recognition this season, the Truckers enter the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed in the 15-team Div. II Mansfield Madison district.

Every game could be the last for Haraway before he moves on to a yearly top 20 NCAA Div. II program at Ashland. But his past troubles have helped shape the right mindset for what’s left.

“I love being around my friends, and making the right decision is something I have to become better with,” Haraway said. “But I think I’m a stronger person now.

“I know who I am and what I want to accomplish — and I’m not going to let anything get in the way of that,” he added. “My family constantly pushes me to become a better person, and that has changed me. The way they all support me, I’m going to do what I can to make them proud.”

And that might be the biggest benefit of being the youngest in the family. Haraway can hardly contain his smile when talking about it.

“Oh, I get everything and they all know it,” he said. “Including being able to leave my mark last.”