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Bradley’s Best: Walk-ons Cade Hardtke and Sam Hennessy

Walk-ons Sam Hennessy (left) and Cade Hardtke (right) help prepare Bradley before a showdown with Illinois State. Photo by Jenna Zeise

Behind every 3-pointer, alley-oop and skyhook, there is a duo yelling, griddy-ing and hyping up their teammates on the sideline.

No, they aren’t modified cheerleaders, they’re Bradley sophomore walk-ons Cade Hardtke and Sam Hennessy. While fans may see them as the pre-game helpers that often sport a grin, their role on the team ascends behind closed doors.

“Our scout team has won us many games this year,” Braves’ head coach Brian Wardle said. “They just bring energy everyday.”

As members of the scout team, Hardtke and Hennessy’s job is to study up on their opponents’ tactics and try to replicate those actions in practice.

“You got to know everything about the other team and what their tendencies are and what they are gonna do in game,” Hennessy said. “We want to give our guys the best look possible heading into a game.”

Trying to replicate a Division I player’s tendencies is no easy task, but with both players having strong high school careers at well-known schools, they’ve eased into the role without much hesitation.

Basketball in the blood

The son of Wade and Tonia Hardtke, Cade is the middle child of three. His 6-foot-5 brother Cole is currently a senior at Division III’s Wisconsin Lutheran, but before he joined the Warriors, he was a Raider at Glenbard South High School with Cade.

Cade Hardtke encourages his teammates pregame. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

In addition to playing with his older brother, Cade and his brother were lucky to be under the tutelage of their father Wade —now the winningest head coach in Glenbard South history with 248 wins and counting.

“Not everyone gets to play with their brother and under their dad,” Cade said. “We were fortunate to be successful at that level. Everything I learned in the sport of basketball before I got here was from my dad and my brother.”

The two-time Upstate Eight all-conference winner helped lead his Raiders to a conference championship during the 2019-20 season after winning a sectional the year prior. In his final season, Cade averaged just under 18 points a game while hauling in over five rebounds and three assists each game.

The guard’s athletic expenditures expanded past the hardwood as he also made stops at the gridiron and the diamond. Playing wide receiver his sophomore and junior year, Cade switched to the signal caller position as quarterback his final year. That effort helped garner multiple offers to play football collegiately, even picking up a Division I-FCS offer from Valparaiso.

He chose Bradley.

From one Red and White to another

Sam Hennessy drives to the rim pregame. Photo by Jenna Zeise

Sam Hennessy’s energetic character stands out on the sideline. Being one of four children to parents John and Wendy, Sam was the only one of the bunch to follow his parents’ footsteps in choosing the Hilltop as his next home.

Before making the decision to land in Peoria, Sam was busy aiding his Benet Academy Redwings. Located in Lisle, Ill., the Redwings have continually been a force at the IHSA 4A level. In Sam’s two years, the 6-foot-2 guard was an integral part of their 34-13 record during their 2020 regional championship.

“I loved it,” Sam said. “Benet is kind of a historically winning program, so to be a part of that, I loved it. It prepared me to be here.”

Averaging over nine points, four assists and three rebounds his senior year, Sam was able to win an All-East Suburban Conference honor. He knew that Bradley had to be the next step.

Placement in Peoria

“I always wanted to walk-on, specifically at Bradley,” Hennessy said. “I kind of just did it all on my own. I reached out to the coaches and it just ended up working out.”

Both sophomores arrived at Bradley with the intention of walking on. Neither was familiar with the other, but after being selected to continue further with the team, they created a budding relationship with the rest of the players and with each other.

The experience has been everything both players were seeking.

“It’s awesome,” Hardtke said. “It’s everything that you ever dreamed of when you grow up and want to play basketball at the next level.”

“Similar to Cade, the experience has been amazing for me,” Hennessy added. “It’s been cool to see myself develop basketball-wise, as well as my teammates and as a whole team.”

Cade Hardtke helps close out a huddle. Photo by Jenna Zeise

Even with getting to play the game he grew up on, Hardtke never forgot what he had to rise above. Diagnosed with testicular cancer his sophomore year of high school, the 6-foot-2 guard is now in his fourth year of remission.

“When you go through something like that, it teaches you a certain mindset,” Hardtke said. “Now you look at basketball as an opportunity that you get to go out there and play every day. You can’t take it for granted because there are people out there that can’t do that.”

“He thinks he’s LaMelo Ball”

As Hardtke points towards junior forwards Goanar Biliew, Darius Hannah, among other Braves, he reminds them that despite their height and length advantage, “they can’t guard me.” Hennessy, on the offensive, quickly remarks that Hardtke’s confidence makes him believe he’s similar to the Charlotte Hornets’ point guard.

Even Wardle is quick to chime in that, in a recent practice, the two were going at each other during a quick one-on-one session.

The battles between Hardtke and Hennessy know no bounds. The most well-known battle —between who is the better dancer— remains a disputed and unanswered proposition.

“My dance moves are all original; Cade tends to steal my dance moves sometimes,” Hennessy said, trying to egg on his sideline friend/foe.

“I have more rhythm than Sam,” Hardtke said, pushing back. “I can feel the beat, I can feel the groove; so that’s what sets me apart.”

The answer to whether Hennessy’s griddy and bow-and-arrow celebration is better than Hardtke’s vocal rambunctiousness and energetic antics will remain unsettled, but their impact on the team —whether in practice, hotel rooms or on the sideline— is clear as day.

“These two bring it every day, they’re a pleasure to have around,” senior Ja’Shon Henry said. “That’s why they travel with us, we love these two.”

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