by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Jake Wilson is getting a lot of attention this winter, and not just for his pink shoes.
The Zimmerman senior who helped the Thunder win 45 games the past two seasons now finds himself the leader of an otherwise new lineup and drawing much of opponents’ attention. He’s also a newly-minted college recruit, signing with Minnesota-Duluth.
“I’m the captain, and I’m the tallest guy, so I’ve got to guard the big guys. And I have to score a lot more,” said Wilson, who’s averaging 18.4 points, with a career-high of 31 in a loss to Becker. He had 27 and the game-winning shot in a four-overtime, 80-79 win over Cloquet.
The Thunder, 22-9 and 23-5 the last two seasons, are 3-4 so far, but Wilson sees his new teammates getting more and more comfortable in their roles. Last time out, they gave unbeaten St. Francis a good battle, losing 89-79.
“My first goal is to win the conference again, and I’d love to get another shot at state,” said Wilson, adding that the Thunder “have a good chance” at both if they keep developing.
The 6-foot-6, 185-pound forward has a distinctive look for his senior year, with long-sleeved Under Armours beneath his jersey (“They keep the sweat off my hands, and actually cool off the body”) and those sweet pink Nikes (“That’s an anniversary present from my girlfriend; she knows pink is my favorite color”).
Thunder coach Ben Kvidt has seen some fine players graduate the last two years but knows Wilson’s skills and character will help keep the Thunder competitive.
“Jake is a phenomenal leader and top-notch student,” said Kvidt. “He’s one you never have to worry about and the kids follow him. There’s no headaches coaching Jake.”
Wilson is also a “matchup nightmare” for opponents to guard.
“He shoots the ball real well, and handles the ball real well, and at 6-foot-6, he’s versatile enough to play different positions,” assessed Kvidt. “If a post player guards him, he’s quicker. If a guard takes him, he can post him up or shoot over him.”
Wilson was an energizing sub as a sophomore on Zimmerman’s first-ever state tournament team. One of his career highlights was scoring 12 points off the bench at Williams Arena in a 61-58 state loss to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.
His junior year, he led the Thunder to the GRC basketball crown (10-1) with 15.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, shooting 51 percent. The Thunder lost to Duluth Denfeld in overtime in the section semifinals.
Wilson was also a quarterback from grade three through 10, and started the first two varsity games his sophomore year. All that changed with a knee injury the final play of a 34-13 win over Cambridge-Isanti, a game in which he threw a touchdown pass and ran nine times for 39 yards. He missed the rest of that season.
Wary that another injury would jeopardize his hoop dreams, he switched to wide receiver as a junior. He caught eight passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns, while hurling a couple TD passes himself on trick plays, helping the Thunder win the GRC title and reach the section finals.Wilson passed up football his senior year as hoops offers started pouring in, a total of eight, from Minnesota and North Dakota teams. He also plays for the Minnesota Comets AAU team.
Wilson has logged 753 career points, including 11 dunks and 43 three-point shots, along with 260 rebounds. He’s the first ZHS basketball player to land a college scholarship. Whatever happens with his Thunder this year, he can look forward to several more years of hoops.
THE WILSON SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 18 … Family: parents, J.R. and Lisa; younger sisters, Isabella, Sophia and Gabriella; younger brothers, Luke and Elijah … Sport: basketball, formerly football … Academics: 3.7 GPA … Other activities: National Honor Society, DECA…. College: UM-Duluth, basketball, major in some aspect of business
Favorite stuff — Class: physics … TV shows: “SportsCenter” and “The Big Bang Theory” … Movie: “Coach Carter” … Reading: Sports Illustrated … Food: Buffalo Wild Wings … Drink: Mt. Dew … Teams: Ohio State football, basketball … Athlete: Rajon Rondo … Kickback activities: Outdoor stuff like jet skiing, swimming … Would like to visit: Italy