BURNABY — Basketball has continued to evolve into more and more of a position-less sport, one in which the standard line between guards and forwards has increasingly blurred and ultimately lost much of its relevance when weighed against the virtues of the dynamic hybrid athlete.
And so when you’re fortunate enough to get a player like the latter to commit to your program, that rare level of student-athlete able to potentially impact all 94 feet of the court, on both sides of the ball at a plus-level, the dominos can begin to fall at so many different levels.
Most of the time, a player like that gets lost to the world of Div. 1 hoops, yet as part of its incoming 2019-20 recruiting class, the Simon Fraser Clan women’s program has managed to keep one of those players right here at home.
“One of the things I’ve loved most about her,” says Clan head coach Bruce Langford of Jessica Wisotzki, the 6-foot-1 freshman-to-be from Langley’s Walnut Grove Secondary, “is that every step she has taken along her learning curve has been a significant one, and I mean from Grade 9-to-10, 10-to-11, 11-to-12. I think she is unique.”
A key cog in helping the Gators to back-to-back appearances in the top-tiered B.C. Triple A championship final the past two seasons, that uniqueness will be on display for the final time in her high school career Thursday (8 p.m.) when Wisotzki suits up for the Fraser Valley in its annual all-star game clash with the Lower Mainland, this time at Port Coquitlam’s Riverside Secondary. The evening begins with a Fraser Valley-Lower Mainland Futures All-Star game at 6 p.m.
And so what is it about Wisotzki that any talent evaluator will tell you is unique and special?
It’s all about how her dynamic athleticism and above-average length operate in perfect unison.
Wisotzki’s in-game speed is freakish, but she’s also got a huge-wingspan, huge hands with soft touch in the traffic areas, as well as a three-point shot that is every bit as strong as the rest of her game.
And when the recently-completed high school season began in late November, Wisotzki took that final step on the learning curve Langford referenced, moving into an expanded role in the post where she finished her Gators’ career with senior season averages of 23.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game within an attack that also included teammate and B.C. High School Player of the Year Tavia Rowell, the point guard who averaged 25 points, 5.5. rebounds and 11 assists per game.
Interestingly enough, her time in the paint may well have been an apprenticeship which will serve her well at the next level, to the point where it could determine how much time she spends on her floor next season as a freshman in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
READY FOR HER MOMENT
There really isn’t any debate as to when Jessica Wisotzki had her breakthrough moment on the court.
It came back on Dec. 16 of her Grade 11 year when Wisotzki simply took over the proceedings, scoring a career-high 41 points to carry her Gators past Abbotsford 75-65 in the championship final of the Tsumura Basketball Invitational at the Langley Events Centre.
Named the tournament’s MVP, Wisotzki also scored 32 points earlier in the day as part of her team’s 96-80 semifinal win over Semiahmoo.
Said Darren Rowell, her head coach, echoing the sentiments of virtually everyone that day who were at least a little surprised at the level of drama Wisotzki was able to bring to her breakthrough moment: “I always thought the sky was her limit, but the part I didn’t know was that it was going to happen this quick.”
Wisotzki is not above looking back at her early days and laughing about the complete lack of understanding she had in terms of what her potential truly was.
“I can remember working with so many coaches who kept telling me that my length was something that could really help me, and I thought ‘How is that going to help?’” remembers Wisotzki, who was already 5-foot-10 in Grade 9. “Of course I figured it out, how it’s helped me catch these crazy passes from Tavia.
“But back in Grade 9, I had trouble figuring out how to do things with my body and my height,” she adds. “I was always tall, but I had to adapt because I was clumsy.”
SHADES OF ROBYN BUNA
March 14, 2010.
That was the day Simon Fraser women’s basketball played its final game as a CIS (now U Sports) program.
It was also one of the hallmark days in the entire history of Clan athletics, because it marked not only a 77-56 win over McMaster for the team’s fifth Bronze Baby national title in nine years, but the start of a new chapter the following fall as the first-ever non-U.S. women’s basketball program to join NCAA.
Ask Langford to reference a comparable to Wisotzki from his past Clan teams and his thoughts go right back to that season, one which will soon be a full decade in the review mirror.
“(Wisotzki) reminds me a bit of Robyn Buna,” says Langford of the 5-foot-11 formerly-unheralded Kelowna Owl, who over the course of her five-year Clan career won three national titles, and was named the MVP of the 2010 national tournament.
“(Wisotzki) had a similar body type because Robyn was pretty skinny coming out of high school,” continued Langford, “except that she is taller and longer. She does remind me a lot of Buna, though. I think she shoots it better from three than Buna did when she first came in.”
Langford then let out a chuckle and added that it would be something for anyone to be able to shoot the three like Buna did over her final few seasons, including the ridiculous 48 per cent (60-of-126, 24 games-played) marksmanship she exhibited over her swan song 2009-10 season.
Yet the element that Wisotzki brings, one which makes her so unique, is the potential to not only provide quick-strike, ultra-tempo, guard-based offence, but to also become the kind of player who learns how to score and defend in the paint against the conference’s best talent.
Right now, Langford calls it the figurative million-dollar question.
“The thing that will boost her a ton is adding strength,” says Langford who knows veteran GNAC defences will bring a level of push back that Wisotzki has not yet encountered in her career.
“You know that her offense is flexible enough to incorporate various skill sets,” continues Langford, “but the big issue for her is, can she defend right off the bat? She must defend the 4-5 positions right away.”
That forecast shouldn’t surprise.
SFU has not only graduated its heart-and-soul hard rock in forward Sophie Swant, but also the conference’s leading shot blocker in Samantha Beauchamp.
That means, from a veteran standpoint, rising redshirt juniors Claudia Hart and Ozi Nwabuko, along with rising sophomores Justina Chan and Sophie Klassen comprise a returning front-court which on the whole, is very shy of frontline experience and depth.
Last season, that quartet averaged a combined 53 of the team’s 200 player-minutes-per-game, with ace rebounder Nwabuko taking up a huge chunk herself at 28 minutes-per-game.
“I do see him asking me to play there and I am totally open to playing in the post,” said Wisotzki, who says she intently studied how she might fit with the Clan while attending an SFU game this past season with her Walnut Grove teammates.
“(The GNAC) is such a faster-paced game and I could see that the physicality just goes up,” continued Wisotzki, who is not wasting any time in getting ready for the next challenge. “Over this off-season, I am getting in the gym every day, working hard to try to increase my speed and my strength before I get to college.”
Of course there is no telling what will happen over the course of a four-year career.
She could wind up impacting the game from the painted areas, or, the results of future recruiting could just dictate a natural move out of the paint and more towards the perimetre.
Either way, Jessica Wisotzki is unique because she is the kind of player who will never go out of style.
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