The evolution of Connor Gunderson

Published 5:42 pm Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A year ago, Connor Gunderson was a reserve on the Austin boys basketball team. He was relied upon for the occasional outside shot and some spot defensive help on a team that played .500 ball.

Things have changed drastically.

After an offseason where he was dubbed an ‘open gym superstar’ by his coach, the 6-foot, 5-inch, 185-pound forward, has grown leaps and bounds on the court as he leads the Packers with 18.8 points per game while shooting 58.5 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from the three–point arc.

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The transformation has come for a variety of reasons, a three-inch growth spurt, some offseason weight lifting and more familiarity with his teammates. But mostly, Connor has gained some confidence.

“It’s more confidence,” said Connor’s brother and fellow Packer Marcus Gunderson. “He knew he was pretty good last year, but his confidence level wasn’t as high. This year, especially with his height, he knows he can take over at any time.”

Now, when the Packers need a score, Connor is usually the go-to-guy, which has made him a better player.

“I kind of like (being the go to guy),” Connor said. “The team wants to get the ball to me when they want to score. When you have confidence in yourself it’s good but when the team has confidence in you, it’s good too.”

While he still hits plenty of jump shots, Connor’s game now involves driving to the hoop, posting up, and a lot of running. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to create most of his shots, which makes him very valuable to the Packers, who are off to a 13-3 start this season.

“What he does is he moves real well without the basketball. His game has become more versatile and he’s more willing to go inside and get to the rim,” Austin head coach Kris Fadness said. “It’s always going to be tough for teams to keep him from scoring because he gets his points in so many different ways.”

Connor, who also averages 2.1 steals per game, has also put a lot sweat and work into this season and it has paid off.

“I don’t want to say it’s a lot of work, but it’s more than my past years. It’s good because it’s making me a better player,” Connor said. “My teammates always give me crap for getting tired, but I’m running around a lot off of screens.”

He has also learned that things are different in the paint than they are in the safety of the perimeter.

“It was tough going to the paint early on,” Connor said. “The guys rough you up a little more in the paint. It was kind of a new awakening to somewhere I’ve never been.”

As far as Connor’s progression goes, a lot of credit also goes to Marcus, who is averaging 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game this season. The senior forward introduced Connor to the upperclassmen on the team last season and helped bridge the gap between the elder players and Connor. This year’s seniors have now accepted Connor.

“I like the way that our seniors have responded to Connor’s success. They know that the goal is to win games and if that means getting Connor the ball, they’ll do that,” Fadness said. “It helps when you’ve got guys like Will Felten and T.J. Fritz who are pass-first guards. I think we’re a good passing team that’s always looking for that cutter or the open guy.”

But there are always sibling rivarlies and Connor is still looking to one-up his older brother during games.

“If he takes it to the hoop, scores and gets fouled for a conventional three-point play, I’d like to shoot a three and get fouled and make the four point play,” Connor said.

Marcus doesn’t get into the rivalry quite as much and he knows that Connor is usually the No. 1 option.

“If he’s hitting, it’s get the ball to Connor. We know he can score,” Marcus said.

As much as Connor cares about winning for the Packers, he’s almost as focused on winning for the junior class. He is proud to say that the juniors have beaten the seniors in the last couple of scrimmages in practices. This past summer the class rivalries were taken to a new level.

“This summer it got intense. People were throwing each other and getting in each other’s face. That’s gonna make us a better team,” Connor said.

Austin is currently second in the Big Nine with a 10-1 conference record. The Packers host Waseca Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and host Century Friday at 7:30 p.m.


The most impressive statistic for the Austin boys basketball team this season may be nine.

That’s the number of athletes on their 15-man roster who have GPA’s of over 3.50. The Packers have a sophomore, a junior, and a senior who are at the top of their class with a 4.0 GPA.

“For the most part it’s an amazing group when you look at how bright they are and it helps on the court,” Austin head coach Kris Fadness said. “Our guys are truly student athletes. Academics come first.”

All those good grades can only help the Packers on the court.

“I think the high GPA helps us in basketball. We push ourselves in the classroom and it carries over to the court,” Connor Gunderson said.

It’s also a point of pride for Austin, won the Section 1AAA Academic Title last season.

“All of our guys take academics seriously. It’s something we take pride here in Austin,” Marcus Gunderson said. “It’s better to have smart guys on your team so they know what they’re doing.”