Great Expectations: Wessels has high hopes

Published 6:55 pm Sunday, July 21, 2013

Austin basketball player Zach Wessels has put in a lot of time in the gym to improve his game and he's hoping for big things in the upcoming season. -- Rocky Hulne/

Austin basketball player Zach Wessels has put in a lot of time in the gym to improve his game and he’s hoping for big things in the upcoming season. — Rocky Hulne/

In the last three years, Austin basketball player Zach Wessels has done a lot.

He threw a game winning alley-oop to get the Packers to their first state tournament in 30 years, he saved Austin’s season with a tip-pass for the game winning score against Winona in the Section 1AAA semifinals this past season, and he even hit a buzzer-beating, game winning shot against Albert Lea.

Wessels, who will be a senior this fall, is not done yet.

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Wessels averaged 14.9 points, 4.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 steals for the Packers last winter and he hasn’t missed a beat since the Packers finished 30-1 after a loss to De La Salle in the Class ‘AAA’ state title game. He’s been playing with an AAU team called Minnesota DI all over the United States, he’s been playing with the Packers summer basketball team, and he’s been keeping up on his daily individual workouts out Austin High School.

Despite the fact that it’s summer vacation and he’s already playing plenty of basketball, Wessels still finds time to get in the gym every day by himself for two hours of shooting hoops and lifting weights.

“It’s a lot of time to focus on one sport. I don’t get bored. I just love playing and it doesn’t get old,” Wessels said. “It’s kind of strange.”

Wessels, who is a 6-2 guard, is motivated by two things — the will to win, and the hope of getting a Division I school to offer him a scholarship.

Over the past two seasons, the Packers went 53-7 with Wessels running the point, but this coming season will be much different as Tom Aase is headed to Division II Sioux Falls and Joe Aase is headed to Division I Davidson College.

Still, the Packers return plenty of talent and there is reason to be optimistic. Wessels played a big leadership role last season and his role will likely be even bigger next season.

“It was a great run with Tom, Joe and Collin (Weisert),” Wessels said. “Now that they’re done we can look back and see how sweet it was for the community, but we still have high hopes for next year. We’re looking to get back to state.”

Wessels already has a full scholarship offer to join Tom at Sioux Falls, but he’s hoping to get noticed by a Division I school and July is a big month for scholarship offers.

One of Wessels’ teammates at Minnesota DI, JP Macura of Lakeville North has 26 Division I offers, including Minnesota, Kansas State and North Carolina State.

Wessels has been receiving phone calls and texts from Division I schools, but coaches can’t talk to him at AAU tournaments.

He’s not letting the pressure of trying to get noticed get to him.

“At the beginning I felt pressure, but I learned that I’ve just got to play and worry about the things I can control,” Wessels said. “I hope (an offer) will come. Sioux Falls is a great college, but I’d like to have more to choose from. I’ve been working hard to get more offers.”

When Wessels was growing up in Austin, he remembers being inspired by Connor Gunderson, who plays at St. Olaf College. Gunderson was the leading scorer on a Packer team that made it to the section semifinals in back-to-back seasons.

“I saw him play so well and I wanted to be that guy for the team,” Wessels said.

As he grew older and became more focused on basketball, Wessels had to make the decision to give up baseball and football and it wasn’t an easy one. He never played high school baseball, but he did stay in football through his sophomore season.

“It was tough,” Wessels said. “I had nights where I would just sit there and say ‘why did I do that?’ In the long run it was a good thing, because it gave me more time in the gym.”

The Packers have had a good summer so far as they’ve already notched wins over Owatonna and New Prague and guards Bret Lukes and Ajuda Nywesh are ready to fill in and give the team a big boost this winter.

“We’ve changed stuff up a lot,” Wessels said. “It’s a guard oriented kind of team now. Me, Bret and Ajuda are doing the big things. I always trust those guys to play well and knock down shots.”

Rocky Hulne is the sports editor of the Austin Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter @RockyHulneADH.