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Chris Aarhus / Forum News Service, Published January 23 2013

Blue-collar Wathne excelling for Griggs County Central

Cooperstown, N.D. - As a freshman, Kris Wathne’s 6-foot-1 frame was used to help stave off a rather big Finley-Sharon-Hope-Page lineup.

The game marked the first start for the Griggs County Central standout, and Wathne recalls not having a lot of confidence in himself.

“I think I was pretty timid,” he said. “Coach (Bill) Engel talked to me and said, ‘Just play the game.’ ... I started getting confidence, playing more aggressive from that game.”

It was blue collar then, and it’s blue collar now.

Wathne’s style has served him well in his four-year varsity career. The 6-foot-3 center entered Monday averaging 19.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in leading the Cougars to an 8-3 record.

He scored his 1,000th point earlier this season, a mark he had long been gunning for, but was only mildly concerned about when he approached it.

“It was mostly the relief of just getting it out of the way,” Wathne said. “It was just kind of hovering over me. I was happy I got there.”

He went from being a role player to a team leader as a junior. However, his promise was evident, especially late in the 2009-2010 season, when he scored 14 points in a 60-56 overtime loss to Hillsboro.

“(It was) my freshman year right around districts. I started getting the ball and just started going to the basket,” Wathne said. “I started scoring a lot. In the second half, I came out and started getting double-teamed and stuff. From there I kind of thought, ‘All right, I can do this.’ ”

Wathne stepped into a leadership role as a junior, which started as a conversation with Billy Engel Jr., the coach’s son who was entering his senior year.

“We started talking about how we needed to step up and get guys going,” Wathne said. “Billy and I talked about needing someone to replace (the outgoing seniors).”

Leadership takes many forms. For Wathne, his role is simple.

“Getting everybody to stay positive, keeping everybody on track to work hard, be a grinder and battle through it,” he said. “All the preparation is what pays off in games.”

As the focal point of the Cougars’ offense, he’s fared well this season. His season high for points is 28, which he accomplished against May-Port-CG and Finley-Sharon-Hope-Page. He’s had five 20-point games and likely would have had a sixth against Barnes County North on Thursday if the game hadn’t been called in the third quarter because of condensation issues in the gym. He finished with 17 points.

“If we had our way about it, we’d keep him three feet from the basket,” Engel said. “He’s got guys hanging on him all the time. It makes it tough. ... He can step out to 15-16 feet and square people up and make jump shots out there. It makes him a very tough matchup.”

Wathne deflects credit to his teammates, who are especially important considering Wathne plays on the low block.

“A lot of it is working together, when I get the ball and also giving it back to them,” Wathne said. “A lot of it is just trust and communication.”

The Cougars are firmly in the running for the No. 1 seed in District 3. They sit atop the standings with a 2-0 district record.

“I think we can compete for a district title,” Wathne said. “I think if we play our best basketball, we can compete for the region.”

Aarhus writes for the Jamestown Sun