The senior leader of the Jackson Center Tigers has a college scholarship in his pocket and a renewed motivation to show his community, and the Shelby County League, the extent of his basketball abilities.
Jackson Center – It’s Monday of the first week of high school basketball practice at Jackson Center High School, and the gym is buzzing. All bodies accounted for, and no one’s missing because of football because…there is no football at Jackson Center!
It’s about basketball, and the anticipation is high. Enthusiasm is overwhelming. There’s confidence coming off last March’s state semi-final appearance in Columbus.
Yes, the Tigers lost Drew Sosby, the Shelby County League’s premier perimeter shooter last year, to graduation, along with fellow senior Ethan Zorn.
But a good complement returns, centered around one who many say is the best player in the SCL. Others say…he’s among the best in all of Division IV basketball in southwest Ohio.
He’s Brady Wildermuth, the 6’6”, 200 pound son of Mike and Deb, a retired ODOT employee and a kindergarten teacher in the Waynesfield-Goshen school district; and the brother of one you might recall. Gavin, a 2015 graduate at Jackson Center and member of the Tigers’ 2012 state tourney team, is currently playing at Capital University.
Bigger, and stronger than you might remember from his 20-point performance in the Division IV semi-final against Lincolnview (Van Wert) last March, he looks every bit the part as he prepares for his last high school campaign.
Wildermuth averaged 17.5 points per game last year (6 rebounds and 3 blocks per game) and his 6’6″ frame is so well supported by his physique that he doesn’t look as big as he is. His athletic abilities portend that he can play, and handle the responsibility, of any position on the court – a smaller Ryan Mikesell (University of Dayton sophomore out of St. Henry), if you will.
So, the on-court question entering 2016-17, as with most seniors, is….what’s next? Is he just good, is he better than last year, or even, “is” he the best in the Shelby County League, 2016-17?
Recently signing a letter of intent to play for Division II University of Findlay next year, Wildermuth talked about his past, present, and future this week with the confidence owing to having one distant goal achieved, while pursuing others as close as the SCL title in less than a month.
“I really liked the school (Findlay) and the coach (Charlie Ernst),” says Wildermuth, first addressing his decision to play for the Oilers. “It’s nearby, they have a great tradition, and they won a national title in 2009. They made a good pitch to be part of something great. And I don’t have to get used to new colors. They wear orange and black, like Jackson Center.”
But that’s next year, of course, and Brady Wildermuth is decidedly focused on the here and now, just two days into practice. He eagerly talks about making one more push for a league title, tourney titles, and getting back to Columbus.
“Those are our goals every year. We give a list of things to Coach Elchert,” he says with a broad smile. “We lost a lot of talent with Drew (Sosby) and Ethan Zorn. We should have red-shirted Drew (laughing). But we bring back four letter winners and they all have high intensity, which is what Jackson Center is all about. Bryce Sosby’s worked really hard to take over at point guard, and he deserves that opportunity. But we want to get back to Columbus because we all feel we have business to finish there.
“We came pretty close last year, we missed some shots, and we just lost to a very good Lincolnview team. But that’s what happens in basketball. They were a solid team and the environment of playing at the Schottenstein Center may have gotten to us. It’s different playing there – an amazing place and an amazing experience to be in that arena. I mean, it’s a dream come true. I was in the seventh grade when we went in 2012, and it’s where you want to be if you’re a high school basketball player in Ohio.”
He plays in one of the most competitive leagues in all of Ohio Division IV basketball…and one of the most unpredictable. There’s rarely a gimme’ in the Shelby County League where even the team on the bottom has those inexplicable nights when they walk in and take down the team on top.
There’s again talent and experience at Anna, Ft. Loramie, Russia, Fairlawn and Botkins. And a new coach at Houston promises the instant energy that usually comes with open auditions for playing time and making a good first impression.
But to that $64,000 question, and to address the opinions of those up that way who like to debate, we asked for a self-assessment. Is Brady Wildermuth the best player in the SCL for 2016-17?
“I believe so,” he says, confidently, and without hesitation. “I mean, it’s very competitive and there’s a lot of good players, but I believe I am. Coach Elchert has worked a lot with me since last season, mainly to improve my perimeter shooting. My footwork is better, and I’ve worked hard on my defense, because I expect to guard the other team’s best player almost every night.”
His coach is not hesitant to agree.
“Yeah, I’d agree that he is, but this is a great league and Nate Lessing (at Fairlawn) is a great player who’s gonna set records, as well. But Brady brings so many things to the table for us. He scores, he rebounds, and he blocks so many shots. We struggled at times defensively last year, but he literally bailed us out with his ability to block shots. He has a knack for it. And every year he’s added a new way to score for us. He’s a great player, and he’ll be a great player at the next level.”
Former Houston coach John Willoughby (now at Sidney) has coached against him for three years, and shares his opinion.
“I saw him over the summer and was really impressed with his improvement,” adds Willoughby. “I don’t know where he would rank among other Division IV players in the region, because I don’t see them. But with his size and skills he probably is the best player in the Shelby County League.”
Last year teams would choose between stopping Sosby from the perimeter or Wildermuth and his size around the basket. More often than not, they chose the latter.
Now, with a year of maturity and added perimeter skills, neither coach or player is particularly worried about how, and if, he’ll score.
“For one, we’d be doing a disservice to Brady if we sent him down on the block for every possession. When we do that he’s easier to double or triple-team, and he’ll see that early in the year. So we’ll keep the ball in his hands more and allow him to play more on the perimeter because he’s so athletic and a much better shooter from there now. And, he’s a very good passer. If teams run two or three defenders at him, he’ll find some open teammates.”
Elchert’s proud of his school’s legacy of champion competitors, and smiles when he compares Brady to brother Gavin, a 6’3” guard entering his sophomore season at Capital.
“They’re different players,” says Elchert. “Both great kids, but their games are very different because Brady has the ability to score a lot of points in a hurry, a more explosive offensive player. Gavin could score, but was a better defensive player.”
“It’s tough every night, because teams just come after you. It’s very physical and you just have to learn to deal with that,” says Wildermuth.
The fun part?
“Russia’s my favorite gym on the road because it’s small, it’s loud, and the environment is really cool. It gets me pumped up to play there.”
He’s affable, a good student (3.5 GPA), and leans toward a career in physical therapy after college. That’s a future goal. But to the present – can he and the Tigers achieve this year’s list?
“I’m more comfortable with my game, and I’m confident in my ability to step out and knock down shots that make me harder to defend,” he assures. “I’m comfortable with being more physical because I know teams are going to grab and hold. And I’m confident that our new guys are going to have the same intensity we’ve always had, because that’s Jackson Center basketball.”
As for unfinished business, nothing’s guaranteed, of course. And trips to Columbus come with some breaks and a little luck…and through pedigree. It’s notable that in that semi-final loss to Lincolnview last March Brady Wildermuth shot 70% from the field (7 of 10), led all scorers with 20 points, had four rebounds, a blocked shot, and never left the court. He played the entire 32 minutes.
A game like that in the “Schott” is enough to build your confidence, and game. People noticed. They remember.
Brady Wildermuth is ready to answer the question. Good, better…or best?