They are inseparable.
Wherever one spots Norwalk senior point guard Ben Haraway, it’s a sure thing his cousin, senior wing Jeff Thomas, is right there with him.
The cousins are both accomplished four-year starters for Norwalk (25-1), which faces Vermilion (19-7) in a Division II regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. Thursday at Bowling Green.
Both players acknowledge they are so close they could be brothers, and never once have they gotten tired of spending too much time together.
But that doesn’t mean the two won’t go out of their way to have some fun at the other’s expense.
“Freshman year in AAU, we’re playing in Indiana,” Haraway said. “Jeff was having a really good game, and letting the other team know. Clapping like he always does, getting in people’s faces and talking to them. He was so full of it that game, I swear.”
And what happened next?
“So towards the end of the game, there was a fastbreak, and he was trailing the guy and tried blocking the shot by pinning it on the backboard,” Haraway continued. “He ends up totally flipped around and lands face first, and just totally face plants. So, of course the other guys started talking back to him, and letting him have some of his own medicine. I enjoyed that one.”
When reminded of that story, Thomas wasn’t shy about returning the favor.
“Three years ago, Ben is going to the hole in an AAU game,” Thomas said. “He always flops, and he gets bumped just a little bit. He throws up the ball like 20 feet in the air, falls on the ground and just lays there.”
There was a hush that went over the crowd.
“I mean, you would have thought he was dead,” Thomas added. “He makes the crowd think he’s hurt, because he’s the all-important point guard, but of course gets up like he’s perfectly fine. That one bothered me … just a little bit.”
But the ability to laugh off the embarrassing incidents has created a strong dynamic between the two 1,000-point scorers.
“We’re best friends on and off the court, and every weekend are figuring out what we are doing and where we are hanging out,” Haraway said. “Sometimes if one of us has a bad game, we pick on each other a little, just to let each other know we care — and pick ourselves up at the same time.”
With both players in the starting lineup, Norwalk has won four straight Northern Ohio League championships.
The Truckers are 72-3 in that span, with rankings of 11th, and back-to-back No. 2 finishes in the Associated Press state poll.
“It’s cool, but without the team we’ve had, we couldn’t do all of this,” Thomas said. “We really couldn’t. It’s been nice playing with Ben, but we’ve gotten a lot of help … a lot of help.”
In 2011-12, they were 23-1, losing to Toledo Whitmer, 40-32, in a Div. I regional semifinal, a game that Whitmer was forced to vacate because of OHSAA sanctions.
Last season, Norwalk finished 24-1, falling 44-42 to Mansfield Senior in a Div. I district semifinal. Earlier this season, the lone setback came on Jan. 29 at Ontario, where the Truckers fell 63-61, snapping a 57-game regular season win streak, the ninth-longest in Ohio history.
The loss cost Norwalk a chance to climb to as high as the fifth-longest streak in state history had they gone undefeated again.
But it also may have been the reality check that was needed.
“Losing to Ontario, it was tough to see the streak end once it finally did,” Thomas said. “But we’re a completely different team by the way we play the defense, and by the way we focus on the court. Just to think we could be two wins away from state, it’s really exciting.”
Thomas said the loss showed a glaring weakness in the Truckers — they weren’t doing the little things on a nightly basis.
“We have a chart in the locker room with 15 goals that we have for every game,” he said. “And they are all little things, like take two charges. In that loss, we only had 2 of the 15 things … and that is horrible.
“We usually get five or six, and if we get five or more, we feel like we’ll win the game,” he added. “We talked about that the whole week the second time we played Ontario (69-47 win, Feb. 21), and we went out and got 11 of the 15, the highest we got all year.”
In all, Thomas has 1,266 points, which will finish second all-time at Norwalk, and has back-to-back first-team Northwest District selections, as well as making All-Ohio twice.
Haraway has 1,089 points and will move into fifth all-time at Norwalk with four points Thursday. He also has 486 assists with an outside shot at the rare 1,000-point/500-assist milestone, and will also be a two-time All-Ohioan.
The duo began the year on Nov. 13 by signing with their respective colleges on the same day — Thomas to Div. I Georgia State, and Haraway to Div. II Malone.
“It’s really crazy to think about, because we were always in the gym, always training together,” Haraway said. “So it’s just crazy to see it all sort of paying off at the same time. It’s already a great feeling to know we’re the only team at Norwalk to win two district championships, class-wise. It’s a dream come true already, no matter what else happens.”
And while neither player has ever wanted to touch the ‘who is better’ debate, Thomas did have to admit one thing.
“My face plant story in AAU, that was probably worse than his acting job,” he said. “Well, there’s no probably … it was worse.”