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Werth the center of attention

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

During Hays High School basketball games, all eyes are on 6-foot-6 center Brady Werth.

Werth often towers above opposing players, and he's a one-man wrecking crew underneath, compiling field goals, rebounds and blocks by the truckload.

In the last six games, Werth has averaged 21.8 points per game, with his best performance coming against Garden City on Friday when he scored 28. For the season, Werth has averaged 17.4 points, 4.0 blocks, 7.6 rebounds and 69.2 percent shooting -- all team highs by a significant margin.

Not bad for a sophomore who turned 16 three months ago.

"He's got a chance to get better and better," said Hays High head coach Rick Keltner.

Werth has emerged as the star for a resurgent squad that is 8-1 just a year after going 6-15.

It's rare for a freshman to start varsity on a Class 5A team, but Keltner said he had no qualms inserting Werth into the starting lineup last season.

"We've had some good big guys here, and Brady is on track to be a good one," Keltner said. "I'm smart enough to recognize that, so I put him in there."

Keltner likes to have what he calls "gym rats" on his team. Gym rats are players that spend as much time as possible working in the gym on their craft, and Werth is a gym rat.

Werth spent the past summer playing for Mid Kansas, an MAYB basketball team that competes in AAU tournaments.

As a freshman, Werth was more of a support player, but with Mid Kansas, Werth emerged as a go-to player. He even earned all-tournament team honors at the Mr. Basketball Invitational in Kearney, Neb. -- a tournament that features teams from seven different states.

"I kind of am (surprised by my early success)," Werth said. "I think playing summer ball has helped a lot."

His eighth-grade growth spurt might have helped as well.

Werth said he grew six inches in one year.

If he keeps growing and follows the natural path of progression he's on, he's got a legitimate shot at playing collegiate athletics.

It's definitely something he thinks about, and he has set his sights high.

"Mainly, I just want to get to a D-1 school and play basketball there," Werth said. "I really want to play for KU, but anywhere that's D-1 would be fine with me."

But if Werth doesn't grow, many NCAA Division I schools would consider Werth undersized as a center. He likely would have to learn a new position, which Werth said he's willing to do, but it could be a challenge.

However, Keltner said he doesn't want Werth to concern himself with that.

"I just want him to keep working hard and getting better," Keltner said. "I told him that. That's all you can control. Don't worry about college. Just try to be a better player every day."

So far, Werth has done exactly that. His recent performances have formed a crescendo.

In the Indians' three Western Athletic Conference games, Werth has averaged 21.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.7 blocks.

Keltner raved about Werth's soft touch inside. Keltner said Werth's ability to catch passes inside and in transition makes him difficult to stop, especially considering how well he finishes once he's got the ball.

"He's got nice hands," Keltner said. "He catches the ball well. That's so important for a big kid."

Werth said Keltner has made it a priority for his teammates to get him the ball more.

"He has talked about that a lot," Werth said. "... Get it in and, if I get double teamed, kick it back out."

It's a burden to have to do so much as an underclassman, but Werth said he doesn't mind.

"At times I do (feel pressure), but you've got to work through that," he said. "It'll make you play better."

The Indians begin play Thursday in the Orange & Black Classic in Colby. The Indians play Burlington, Colo. at 3 p.m.