BURNABY MOUNTAIN — Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Steve Kerr… and Jessica Wisotzki.
The numbers never lie, and on a Thursday morning ahead of his team’s Great Northwest Athletic Conference season-opener this Saturday at home to the powerhouse Western Washington Vikings, Simon Fraser Red Leafs’ veteran head coach Bruce Langford is asked the impossible: Can you quantify the incredible start that your junior forward Jessica Wisotzki turned in over the preseason?
“Steve Nash’s thing was always about being that 180 shooter,” begins Langford. “That’s as a free throw shooter, as a three-point shooter and floor shooter (two-point percentage). If your percentages add up to 180, that is a phenomenal goal.”
That aforementioned fantastic NBA foursome each managed to pull the trick by averaging 180-plus over the course of their playing careers, led by the SMUS’ product Nash at 184.9.
Yet while Wisotzki’s total come from a much smaller sample size, all you need to do is a little simple math to discover that her productivity thus far at the NCAA Div. 2 level has indeed been rare.
How about 43 (% 2-pt) + 72 (% 3-pt) + 81 (%) = 196.
And while percentages are one thing, the numbers Wisotzki takes into Saturday’s conference opener against the arch-rival Vikings take on a kind of fire-breathing realism when you discover she’s averaging 25.5 points-per-game, the fourth-best in all of D2 women’s hoops.
As well, her 72.2 per cent shooting clip from beyond the arc is second best in Div. 2.
Ask Wisotzki about the angry start to her 2022-23 season, and she figuratively takes a look over her shoulder to the final game of last season.
“We were so disappointed in how it all ended,” the former Langley-Walnut Grove standout begins of a 91-85 loss to Central Washington in the opening round of the GNAC championships.
“I went into the post-season thinking I wanted to be 100 times better, so I put in the work and I am happy to see it showing because I want to be the person that puts up those numbers and is that leader for our team to follow. Hopefully it encourages others to follow by example.”
Yet as well as she has played, Langford knows she has even more to give to reach her ceiling.
“Right now in practice and in games, she has proven that she is shooting the three better than anyone we have ever had,” he began. “I think that she combines that with a pretty decent take-it-to-the-hoop-and-get-fouled, get-to-the-line.
“But I do think there’s areas of growth for her game… she doesn’t have the midrange game that say, Erin Chambers had, the pull-up backboard shot that Tim Duncan shot. It’s an area of growth for her, but we’ve seen big steps each year so I don’t know if we know where the top is yet.”
The Red Leafs have come out of the preseason with a 2-2 record, decisively beating Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific in the PacWest/GNAC Challenge at Honolulu, then dropping three- and four-point games respectively to Point Loma and Concordia (Calif.) in Idaho at the Northwest Nazarene Thanksgiving Day Classic.
Joining Wisotzki in setting an early tone for the Red Leafs have been junior guard Grace Killins (Coquitlam-Centennial), who has averaged 14.3 ppg and sophomore post Gemma Cutler (North Vancouver-St. Thomas Aquinas) who has flirted with a double-double average at 13.5 ppg and 9.8 rpg.
How quickly the rest of a tough and talented roster finds its groove will go a long ways towards determining Simon Fraser’s success on Saturday, and that question could well wind up being the evening’s biggest plot line.
“I think that offence is a puzzle… putting people together with varying skill sets” explains Langford. “We always want to be a spread-it-out offence and that requires good three-point shooting, and so we stress the three as a key variable. But people have to earn the right to shoot it, and that is what they really need: To earn their confidence to shoot the three. I am not of philosophy of ‘If you’re open shoot it.’ I am more of the philosophy of ‘If you’re open, they don’t think you’re very good.’ And guess what? You probably aren’t.”
As far as her own game goes, the elements Wisotzki carried up Burnaby Mountain to begin her career have now melded perfectly, owing directly to the dimensions she has added the past two seasons.
Prior to the 2021-22 campaign, one in which she would go on to average 17.3 ppg, Wisotzki made a concerted effort to improve her one-on-one game, harnessing the strengths of her dribble-drive game and her enviable length and motor to become a true triple-threat when facing the goal.
She and her younger sister and Red Leafs’ teammate Sophia Wisotzki pushed each other to the brink in an effort to make each other better over the off-season.
For the elder, it’s meant dynamic results: 17 points against Chaminade, 26 points against Hawaii Pacific, 25 points against Point Loma and 34 against Concordia.
Yet come Saturday, no one needs to shy away from the elephant in the room.
“It all just means that Western Washington is going have her under a cloak all weekend,” says Langford. “If there’s one-and-a-half or two players focused on Wiz, that gives you an opportunity to take advantage of it. But to be honest, with Western we need to do well on the boards. They often hurt us in the post and so we have to be solid and it is going to be a team effort. Everyone has to be on the same page.”
Wisotzki is of a like mind, carrying complete confidence in her teammates to help carry the day.
“I know they are going to do that so I have been working on other aspects of my game aside from the shooting and driving, looking for other ways I can score on them,” she says of Western Washington. “And if it’s not working or I’m having trouble, then my teammates will find a way and they can take this game and make it their breakout moment.”
It’s an attitude capable of turning any potentially tough situation 180 degrees towards a better one.
“Jones did a good job of raising the bar for this team,” Langford says of Jessica Jones, last season’s GNAC pre-season Player of the Year who has now graduated from the program.
“And it’s the same thing with Wiz. She keeps on raising the bar.”
Saturday’s game tips off at 5:15 p.m. and will be followed by the Simon Fraser men also taking on Western Washington at 7:30 p.m.
If you can’t make it to what is expected to be a playoff-atmosphere double-header in December, you can watch the action via YouTube on the Simon Fraser Red Leafs TV network.
I’ll have the call of the women’s game, while analyst Paul Eberhardt will join me for the men’s game.
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