BURNABY MOUNTAIN — Sometimes simple works best. Just ask Jessica Wisotzki.
As the Simon Fraser women’s basketball teams continues preparation this week for its Great Northwest Athletic Conference opener Saturday (7 p.m.) in Bellingham against its arch rivals, the Western Washington Vikings, perhaps you have noticed a defined uptick in the sophomore guard-forward’s scoring numbers throughout the preseason?
OK, it’s been impossible miss.
Yes, the same Wisotzki who averaged 11.3 points-per-game over her first four games of the season, has basically doubled that number to 22.3 ppg over her last four games. And, of course, all of that is a huge leap from the 4.1 ppg she averaged as a pure freshman in 2019-20, albeit on much stingier floor time.
So what helped turned things around for the 6-foot-2 grad of Langley’s Walnut Grove Secondary?
How about something as simple as a little daily one-on-one inside the West Gym atop Burnaby Mountain?
Yes, it’s been that simple.
“We’ve just played it way more this year, and we’ve had a bit of token punishment for the kids who don’t win, like running a lot” said SFU head coach Bruce Langford. “We’ve done it for the longest period of time that we’ve ever done it, and Jessica has started to blossom in it.”
We said ‘simple’ but of course nothing is ever quite that simple, because it helps that we’re talking about a student-athlete who possesses a rare combination of smooth athleticism, plus-wingspan, innate feel for the game, and a work ethic which has always insured her continued development as a player.
In fact the only thing which seemed to be missing was a challenge that could needle that part of her psyche that simply did not like to lose.
Langford knew there was an ignition switch somewhere, and he found it by saying ‘How about a little one-on-one?'”
“It just turned on the competitiveness that is inside of me,” said Wisotzki, the reigning GNAC Player of the Week who, in three of her past four games has scored 26, 27 and 32 points, the latter her new single-game career high.
“It just brings out that fire, like ‘I am not letting this person beat me,’” she added. “I want to score and I want to win, and I think (the one-on-one drills) translate perfectly into a game where if we’re down or it’s a close game and I am like ‘Give me the ball’ because I want to score for our team, I want to help our team.’ For the past two weeks that we’ve been doing it, it’s really boosted my confidence.”
Of course all of this has always been inside of her.
Those who followed her career at Walnut Grove may remember back to to December of 2017, when as a Grade 11, she had the high school version of her November 2021 NCAA breakout in the championship final of your author’s own namesake invitational tournament at the Langley Events Centre.
That night, Wisotzki went on to earn tournament MVP honours by pouring in a career-high 41 points, helping the Gators to a 75-65 win over the Abbotsford Panthers in the title game.
The game at the university level which most closely replicated her high school breakout?
The opening game of the Point Loma Nazarene Sea Lions Thanksgiving Classic played last Friday in San Diego.
In that game, Wisotzki went 12-of-18 from the field and 5-of-6 from beyond the arc for 32 points in 37 minutes, adding five rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“I saw brilliance,” said Langford, a coach known as an understated quote. “I saw a very confident and gritty performance, and I could see that in her facial expressions.
“And to be honest with you, she didn’t get any calls,” he continued of a dominant outing which yielded just four free-throw trips.
For her part, Wisotzki is determined to show that there indeed is sustainability to her recent play, and it will be so key as SFU, reeling from the season-ending knee injury suffered by senior point guard Kendal Sands, eagerly awaits the January return of senior Jessica Jones, who back in 2019-20 finished second in GNAC overall scoring at 17.0 ppg.
“Kendal brought so much energy and so much intensity,” said Wisotzki of the former Dr. Charles Best star who seemed destined for an all-conference campaign. “Not having her on the floor with us, when it first happened, we were depressed, and we were wondering how we were supposed to win without our point guard. But instead, she was there at practice to support us. So we’re playing for her. We want to do our best for her, and that is where all of our hard work on the floor is coming from this season. We’re all channeling her.”
And come the new year, when Jones re-joins the roster for her own GNAC swan song, SFU’s two basketball Jessicas will have an opportunity to show how well they can play together.
In fact when you ask Langford about how he envisioned Jessica Wisotzski fitting in through her early years at SFU, he had already had a clear picture in mind.
“That we would transition from one Jessica to another Jessica.
“I think they will challenge some defences,” Langford says. “A lot of teams will say ‘we can totally deny one person and take her out of the game, but if Jessica (Wisotzki) can maintain what she is doing, it’s pretty hard to do that with two people. I assume Jones will be coming in full fire, and while Jessica (Wisotzki) is not proven yet, she is touching on the edge of where we want her to be. We need consistency now.”
Langford is also quick to point out that Wisotzki has earned her green-light status to take the three-point shot any time she sees fit after passing her coach’s prerequisite exam.
“If you make 100 threes, rebounding by yourself, in under 14 minutes then you have the green light,” Langford explains. “Jessica Jones, I believe, has our record at 12.47. If you make one hundred threes in between 14-to-15 minutes you have a modified green light, and even less so if you’re between 16 and 18.5. You’re not allowed to shoot threes if you’re over 19 minutes.”
Adds Wisotzki: “Being able to practice and perfect that shot in high-pressure situations has been so impactful for our team, and there are a lot of people on our team able to do that. It’s part of the reason I think our team will do great this year.”
Which brings us to a final act of serendipity, one which seems to almost insure the two Jessicas will thrive in each other’s company.
“In my freshman year she was my mentor,” explains Wisotzki of the fact that all incoming first-year players are assigned either a veteran player or a past player to help them with the ins and outs of university life. “So having that connection guiding me through my freshman year was so valuable for me, and when I was on the floor with her it amazing to see how she played. She was so supportive, and she’s helped me grow into the player I am.”
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