Julian Malone walked across the Westerville North High School gymnasium with a knee brace in his right hand. It was time to go to work.
The padded, metal support has been a constant companion for the senior boys basketball player in his journey back to the court.
After missing half of his sophomore season and all of his junior year with injuries to his left knee, Malone finally is competing again for the Warriors.
"I bring (the brace) around with me whenever I have any physical activity," he said, laughing. "It seems like I have it a lot. I can run straight forward, but when it comes to running and cutting, I need to be wearing it."
On Jan. 8, 2016, Malone tore his left ACL and meniscus and sprained his MCL in a 76-60 loss to Westerville South. He underwent surgery and missed the remainder of the season. Then that fall while playing for the football team, he suffered a partially torn ACL in the same knee, forcing surgery that kept him out of basketball for another season.
Entering this week, the 6-foot-1 guard had played in every game this season, averaging 8.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals. He scored 13 points as the Warriors broke an eight-game losing streak to South with a 56-49 win Jan. 5 in OCC-Buckeye Division play.
Malone enjoys being back on the court, especially after the watching ... and waiting ... and learning.
"You get a better understanding of the game from the bench," he said. "You get a higher basketball IQ, and you start to see the game more visually. Playing the game and watching the game are two completely different things. I learned a lot from my experience of watching for most of two years.
"I see it from a coach's perspective and I see what our strengths and weaknesses are. So when I came back, I saw what we were lacking as a team and now I'm able to do something about that. I understand what we need to do more."
Coach Shan Trusley said Malone's inactivity was limited to the court. During those months away from playing, he said Malone was becoming a better all-around player.
"Julian really has become a coach on the floor," said Trusley, whose team was 8-2 overall before playing Marysville on Jan. 9 and is tied with Westerville Central atop the OCC-Buckeye at 3-1. "He can play multiple positions, and he knows multiple positions. I can stick him at the point or (inside) with his back to the basket. He knows where to go and he knows everyone's responsibility, which is something he has picked up over the last two years."
Malone also began to understand the speed of the game. He was able to break down the execution of plays from the sideline, where the game seems slower and similar to the Xs and Os drawn up on a grease board.
"When you are watching the game, you don't really see the speed of the game, but when you're on that court it's a lot different," said Malone, who has a 3.7 GPA. "When you look from the sideline you can see everything, but when you're playing you can't see everything.
"It's a lot faster on the court, especially coming off the knee injuries. It was an adjustment to be able to make those on-court decisions and I would too fast. Sometimes you have to be patient and be in control."
Malone also is back with guards Julius Brown and Jeremiah Keene. Through 10 games, Keene was averaging 15.5 points and Brown was averaging 9.9.
"I have been playing with Jeremiah on a travel team since I was 11 and I started to play with Julius in my freshman year," Malone said. "I know their strengths and we know how to work well together. It's always fun in games and practices and outside of the game. They are my best friends."
Content to be back, Malone is just enjoying the ride. He said he doesn't fear injury from jumping or making cuts.
"I really don't feel any pressure," he said. "I know people do rankings on who is the best in the OCC and things like that. I know how (my team) can play, so I'm not worried about how high or how low we are in those. We just want to be playing our best basketball by the end of the year."
Swim teams rev up for Northeast Classic
Members of the boys and girls swimming and diving teams will compete Saturday, Jan. 13, in the Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Last season, Andrew Bernsdorf set both meet and program records while winning the 500-yard freestyle in 4 minutes, 37.96 seconds. He also was third in the 200 free (1:43.38).
The Warriors swept the "Rule The 'Ville Meet" on Dec. 23 at Westerville Community Center. The boys defeated Central 114-66 and South 97-83, and the girls beat Central 93-92 and South 96-90.
"I'm so proud of each and every one of our kids," coach Rich Morris said. "They came to race and compete and wanted to be the top Westerville school this year at the meet, and their teamwork showed."
Bernsdorf set pool records in the 200 free (1:44.87) and 500 free (4:46.03), and Jason Mathews also set a pool mark in the 100 free (46.96).
For the girls, Janessa Mathews won the 100 breaststroke in a pool-record 1:06.21.
Girls basketball team continues to improve
The girls basketball team was 4-9 overall before playing Marysville on Jan. 9 and is 2-3 in the OCC-Buckeye.
The Warriors lost to South 44-25 on Jan. 5 in league play. Alyssa Wright led with 13 points.
"We're getting better game after game," coach Lamont Tillman said. "We're giving ourselves a chance with what we are doing on the defensive end, but we're waiting for the offense to catch up."
Bethany Worm scored 14 points to lead the Warriors past Central Crossing 48-23 in the Phil Brown Classic on Dec. 28 at Otterbein.
Wrestlers win title at Scioto
The wrestling team had 13 competitors place in the 12-team Kevin Cleveland Memorial Tournament on Jan. 6 at Dublin Scioto.
Andrew Scherer (126 pounds) and Blake Wright (132) won championships for the Warriors, who finished first with 240 points. Pickerington Central was second with 206.
Brennan Albertini (160), Bodi Bien (195), Jake Goody (113) and Jacob Woods (170) all placed second, and Caden Christ (145), Davis Gaylord (heavyweight), Jacob Goldsmith (182) Trevor Long (152) and Gabe Ohle (106) all placed third. Jack Stallings (120) and Brice Wilson (138) both were fourth.
Below are the coming schedules for the North boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 12 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
Jan. 13 -- At Watterson
Jan. 16 -- Home vs. Whitehall
*Jan. 12 -- At Orange. The Warriors defeated the Pioneers 51-40 on Dec. 5.
*Jan. 16 -- Delaware at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 13 -- Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
*Jan. 11 -- At Westerville Central
Jan. 12-13 -- Licking Heights Invitational