How Gada Wagner emerged into a true scoring option for 3A-4 district champion Waldron boys

Buck Ringgold
Fort Smith Times Record

A season ago, Gada Wagner was considered the second option to score for the Waldron boys basketball team.

But when the first option was a transcendent player like Payton Brown, now a high-scoring freshman for Arkansas-Fort Smith, Wagner felt pressure following up Brown's lofty standards.

"Last year, I was probably the second-best scorer on our team and I was not a very good offensive threat," said Wagner, a senior shooting guard and three-year starter. "Our offense came through Payton. ... I was scared to shoot the ball because I was afraid that fans on our team would be mad if I shot this or if I did that."

With Brown's departure, Wagner has emerged as a true scoring weapon. But he's not the only one.

The Bulldogs continued their surprising season Saturday as they claimed the 3A-4 district championship with a 49-40 win at home against Charleston.

"Everybody was saying we were going to be fourth or fifth (in the conference). ... We knew for sure that we wasn't going to be fourth or fifth or third, we knew for sure we was going to be competing for number one," Wagner said.

"When we went into the season, we had that on our shoulders to prove people wrong."

Wagner pointed out there's seven seniors on the Bulldogs, a team which now heavily relies on defense.

"Our defense is absolutely great," Wagner said. "Our goal is to hold everybody to under 48 points because that's 12 points a quarter, and we believe if we can hold them under 48 points, we're going to win no matter what team we play and so far, we've been able to do it.

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"And our defense turns into our offense, and we have three scorers that can score on any given night. It can be me, Jaden Hutchens or Isaac Villarreal (two other seniors)."

Wagner, who is averaging 16 points per game, certainly did his part in his final home game. Two nights after hitting six 3-pointers in a semifinal win against Booneville, Wagner had 19 points and made three 3's Saturday.

"(This offseason), I put hours and hours and days into basketball, so I knew I was going to have to be the offensive guy for our team this year," Wagner said. "Mainly my whole career, I've been defense, defense, defense, so this year, I knew I was going to have to be the defensive guy and the offensive guy.

"But like I said, there's some nights we have two or three other guys on the team that can score 20 points any night and can get it done."

With Saturday's win, Waldron (23-5) earned the top seed from 3A-4 at this week's regional tournament in Bergman. 

Even with Brown's presence last season, it ended for the Bulldogs on their home court in the regionals. So it gives Wagner and his teammates more motivation to prove the doubters wrong.

"We cannot look ahead," Wagner said. "From here on out, everything has to be focused."