Best friends forever

Photo by Jim PetersLaCrosse sophomores Ben Garwood, left, and Kyle Gorski have been close friends since they were about 5. Their dads were also classmates and teammates at the school.

LACROSSE — Over 20 years ago, Brandon Gorski and Chris Garwood were basketball teammates at LaCrosse.

Both men continue to make their home in the tiny La Porte County town, where their sons, sophomores Kyle Gorski and Ben Garwood, are Tigers teammates and, like their dads, best of friends.

"They're always together on the weekends," Gorski said of their dads. "We're always playing 1 v. 1. We have the free throw line and 3-point line done in the cement on the driveway. It's pretty even most of the time. It always has been."

The boys, who are both third-generation LaCrosse students, live just a few minutes from each other, only a couple blocks from the high school. They have been classmates as well as teammates since they were 5, playing together in the Wanatah Basketball League and LaCrosse Little League.

"Once school started, we've always been together," Gorski said.

Hoops run deep in both families. In addition to his dad, Garwood's mom, Leslie, played for the Tigers and his sister, Claire, is on the girls team. Gorski's mom, Sarah (Hannon), played at Westville, where her sons and Kyle's cousins, Jaron and Alec, play for the Blackhawks. Two aunts, Amber and Candace, played at Westville and, another Mallory, at South Central.

Ben's varsity career got off to a head start last year as he saw significant minutes as a freshman coming off the bench on a senior-heavy team. Kyle saw some minutes at the end of games, primarily playing JV.

While their personalities academics (both are Honor Roll students) are similar, their respective positions have long since been determined by their stature. Garwood stands 6-foot-4 and has always been the tallest person in his class. He was 6-foot by middle school. At the other end of the height spectrum is Gorski, who's listed at 5-9 on the roster but acknowledges he's really 5-8 while weighing 130 pounds.

"I've always been short," Kyle said. "I've usually been a point guard and he's been a center."

As a result of all of their time together, they've developed an on-court chemistry that brings a fluidity to their play.

"We know what each other like to do on the court, our strengths and weaknesses, and we play around them," Gorski said.

"Whenever we run a pick and roll, it works pretty well," Garwood adds.

That'll be integral this season as both are being looked upon to be key cogs for the Tigers.

"Kyle is going to become the full-time ball handler," coach Preston Frame said. "Unless he's in foul trouble, he's not coming off the floor. I'm hoping Ben steps up into the leading scorer, leading rebounder role. He's going to be a big part of what we do offensively."

Working against the seniors in practice last year and facing teams in the summer has helped prepare Ben for the next step.

"It's a lot different than last year. We had a lot more size, but it's fun," he said. "I think the summer went pretty well. It definitely helped being against bigger guys. I just have to be smart with my shots, try to get every rebound."

While Garwood will do most of his work in the paint, he's capable of stepping out to shoot a jumper, his range extending to the arc. Gorski is a facilitate-first guard who can shoot when open.

"I'm excited for it," Gorski said. "It'll be a big change but I think I'm ready for it after a lot of practice. The coaches got us ready for it. The guys are a lot bigger, so I've got to be quicker and smarter with how I play. I pass a lot, get a lot of assists, but when other guys drive, I'm out there to hit shots."

Despite the team's dearth of experience, the boys are optimistic.

"One of my goals is to get a better record than last year, be over .500," Gorski said.

At some point in their careers, the boys hope to forge a better memory than the time when they were 8 and Garwood cut his leg and was hit in the head by a shovel on the same winter day when they were out playing in the snow.

"There was a piece of metal in our field," Gorski said. "We went back in the house and he said, 'I think I have a rip in my jeans.' He looked down and he had a big cut. It was a bad day for him."

"Just stitches," Garwood said. "I didn't even notice I got cut."

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