CULLOWHEE, N.C. — Brad Halvorsen might be the happiest guy on a basketball court these days.
That’s because he appreciates it more than he ever has.
Halvorsen has joined his brother Matt at Western Carolina and the two Kingsport residents will be on the same team again for the first time in four years. It’s a reunion neither saw coming when Brad gave up the game after his senior year of high school.
After a successful senior season at Christ School in Asheville, North Carolina, Brad was ready to pick a college. The only problem was the pickings were slim. Some small schools called and a couple of Division I teams offered a possible spot as a walk-on.
None of them seemed like a good fit, so he made the difficult decision to give up the game which had been a big part of his life for as long as he could remember. He enrolled at Tennessee to join several of his friends.
“I really felt like God was sending me in a different direction, away from basketball,” he said. “And I thought I was ready to move on.”
Something changed after a short time in Knoxville. Brad began to miss everything about the game, saying there’s a certain feeling you get from being part of a team and that feeling can’t be duplicated.
“The first couple months, I could really feel the urge for missing basketball,” he said. “I missed the grind, missed the practice, the camaraderie, the family that you make within your team and with your coaches. It’s something you can’t understand unless you go through it.”
Brad, who comes in as a red-shirt freshman, says he won’t be trying to fill the shoes of his successful brother. He’s already been down that road.
Matt begins his senior season 61 points shy of 1,000 for his career and is on pace to set Western Carolina’s 3-point shooting record.
“I kind of went through the same thing at Christ School,” Brad said. “I came in when I was a sophomore and he was a senior. Me and Matt are different players. Matt is a pure shooter. I also try to attack and create for others. We don’t have exactly the same games and I kind of struggled with that at Christ School. Everyone labeled me as ‘Halvorsen the shooter.’ I realized my senior year I can drive, I can attack. I kind of redeveloped myself my senior year.”
Brad made all-conference and his team made the state tournament.
“I felt like I had figured out my game and really developed my game,” he said. “I got into a rhythm and was getting my shot.”
Just as his game was on an upward path, he made the tough decision to quit. It didn’t take long to start questioning that move.
Then in March, out of the blue, Western Carolina called and offered a spot as a walk-on. It was a chance to regain the excitement of being part of a team while also being reunited with his brother.
“It just seemed like the most perfect opportunity,” Brad said. “With it being Matt’s senior season, he told me how together the team is. Matt is loving this team, loving the coaching staff.
“It didn’t take more than 48 hours for me to realize this is exactly what I want to do and it’s been the best decision of my life.”
Western Carolina is a program on the rise with Mark Prosser about to begin his third year. The Catamounts went 19-12 last season.
Brad knows that every once in a while a walk-on is rewarded with a scholarship, and he says if he doesn’t earn one at some point, it won’t be because he didn’t work hard enough.
“Even if I’m not playing, I can help every day in practice,” he said. “And I can show that I can work harder than anybody. I’ve got a big chip on my shoulder, but my biggest motivation is helping the team win the SoCon championship.
“I believe in myself. I believe I can help this program. I’m locked in on this.”
Brad joined the team in time for preseason workouts and Matt says his little brother is fitting in quite well.
“He looks good,” Matt said. “He needs to put on a little weight, but most freshmen do. He’s super competitive. He’s a little smaller, but he’s really quick.
“It’s going to be an exciting year. Hopefully we can reach our goals. It’s going to be fun trying to do it with him.”
For Brad, the return to basketball — and playing with his brother — has reenergized his love for the game.
“One of the biggest things for me making the decision was that me and Matt dreamed of this as kids,” he said. “We played together throughout our childhood and our whole lives we worked to play Division I basketball. When they called and we had a chance to be teammates, it felt like it was bigger than basketball. And now we are on the same team competing for a championship, which is even better than what we dreamed of.”