GREENFIELD — Two blond-haired 13-year-old girls are standing together on the basketball court, watching as the ball is thrown up for tipoff. Who won the tipoff isn’t important, only that once the ball came down Katie Helgason started moving in a hurry to the other end of the court.
Without giving it a second thought, Madison Wise followed right behind. Only seconds later would they both realize they had gone the wrong way.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my best friend is going that way, I’m going that way, too,” Wise said giggling, sitting next to Helgason on the Greenfield-Central gym’s bleachers as high school seniors five years later. “We won, though, don’t worry.”
Things have certainly changed for both girls since, growing up together as integral parts of Greenfield-Central’s varsity basketball team over the past three seasons. But thinking about that game and seeing how they both still exchange looks or laugh together, nothing has changed at the same time.
As seniors, Wise and Helgason are still best friends, live across the street from one another and are still two of the best basketball players on the court every time they step onto it.
“Katie and I have been best friends since forever,” Wise said. “Best friends in the locker room, best friends at school, always talk to each other in the hallways, go to campfires together, go places all the time together.”
Last season, Helgason and Wise led the Cougars (23-5) to their first sectional title since 2003-04, but lost in the regional championship to Roncalli by a single point. When the Cougars begin this season Nov. 4 against Greenwood, Wise and Helgason won’t step onto the court together.
While Wise — a second-team IndyStar Super Team performer last year — will assume her normal starter’s role, Helgason will be watching from the bench, recovering an anterior cruciate ligament tear in her knee she sustained during the soccer season.
Helgason, who averaged 11.5 points and 4.3 assists last season, is cleared for running and some drills but doesn’t expect to return until after Christmas, leaving the on-court leadership in Wise’s hands.
“She knows that she’ll have to do a lot more this year, even though she does a lot anyways,” said Helgason, who is committed to Ball State. “But she talks to the younger girls that are going to be playing now and she’s helped the point guard out even though she’s not a point guard.”
That’s nothing different from what coach Doug Laker has come to expect from Wise, who he said really embraced changes to the team’s culture when he did away with a group of seniors about three years ago he felt “didn’t believe in our program.” Now, he jokes, Greenfield-Central has “smart kids and a dumb coach” and none more committed than Wise.
“(She’s) a superstar that is our hardest worker,” Laker said. “I’ve been around a lot of kids — 26 years — I’ve never seen a kid work as hard as her. She is an absolute workaholic. In her four years, she’s never lost a sprint in practice.”
Some of this year’s faster freshmen caught wind of Wise’s winning streak and tried challenging her. When one came close after school at practice one night, running neck-and-neck, Wise decided to dive for the finish line just to cross it first — and she did, still unbeaten.
Laker’s practices usually start within an hour after school, going about two hours and usually getting his players out of the gym by 7 p.m. on a late night. But Wise doesn’t always go home. On a few occasions, Laker has caught her staying in the gym until 10 p.m., continuing to work on her outside-shooting game as she did throughout the offseason.
“I’m not saying she’s perfect, but man, I’m very blessed having her,” Laker said.
The way Wise likes looking at it, she was the one blessed with her basketball talent, with supportive family, friends and teammates. The least she can do is put in the work to be the best version of herself she can be.
She quit volleyball this fall after playing varsity three years to focus on becoming a better shooter — coming off a year in which she shot 56 percent from the field and led her team with 22.7 points per game. Not once has she finished a season averaging less than 17.0 points or making fewer than 53 percent of her shots.
“And she knows she’s really good, but she’s a team-first player,” Laker said. “A lot of players, it’s all about them or their posse or whatever. Some don’t really want to play defense, but she wants to guard the best player, she wants to be the best player on the floor every single night.”
And on many nights, she is. Some college coaches are driving more than 100 miles just to see her practice for a few hours because they know it, too. Basketball is in her blood, has been since before she was born when her grandpa used to coach. Even Helgason says Wise is always talking about it, thinking about how to get better when she is away from the court.
But asking Wise, she spins the attention onto her teammates or Helgason’s recovery.
“Just knowing that she’s ahead of schedule and hopefully getting back to playing soon, I think it helps motivate the whole team,” Wise said.
“I told you,” Laker said. “A team-first kid.”
Chances are slim that Wise will go running the wrong direction again on opening tipoff Friday night, but at some point her eyes will probably glance over at Helgason, searching for a boost in energy or extra motivation.
“Just growing up together makes us stronger,” Wise said. “We always know that we have each’s backs. If we need anything, we can always call each other. Or walk over to each’s houses.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Jordan J. Wilson on Twitter: @Wilsonable07. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.