Trotter: Challenging PB Player of the Year Will Tschetter to a 1-on-1 showdown was a bad idea
Post Bulletin sports reporter Isaac Trotter challenged Post Bulletin Boys Basketball Player of the Year Will Tschetter to a game of one-on-one.
I wanted to do something different for the Post Bulletin’s Player of the Year feature story.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Stewartville’s Will Tschetter was going to be the choice. The Tigers were excellent in 2021, and the University of Michigan commit finished third in the state in scoring (30.3 points per game) to go along with 11.8 rebounds per game. He’s the best player in southeastern Minnesota, and he’s the second-best player in Minnesota’s Class of 2021 behind Gonzaga commit Chet Holmgren.
After getting the thumbs up from his mom, Kasey Morlock, I shot Tschetter a text and asked, “Do you want to play 1-on-1? I think it’d be really fun to write about.”
“Bet, I’ll be in our high school gym tomorrow night,” Tschetter responded six minutes later.
Maybe it was arrogance or stupidity, but for some reason, I was oddly confident. I was planning to take it to him. “I’m stronger than this dude,” I thought. I even told a friend about the story idea and said, “He’s not going to play hard, so if I hit some 3-pointers, I’ll have a chance.”
"What if you beat him?” the Post Bulletin’s ace photographer Joe Ahlquist asked.
“I will never ever ever let him hear the end of it,” I responded.
I played basketball in high school. I was a 3-and-D wing who hit the glass hard and scrapped and clawed for everything. In college, I played with a lot of high-level players. I even lived with a college basketball player at the University of Illinois, and we played together regularly. The only problem was that it had been over a year since I had stepped foot inside a gym to shoot because no indoor gyms have been open due to the pandemic. I had found some nice outdoor hoops at John Adams Middle School, but shooting with 20 mph winds isn’t ideal. I knew I’d be a little rusty, but I figured I could find my groove.
Old habits come back quickly right?
We agreed to meet at Stewartville High School at 7 p.m. on April 14. Tschetter and his friend –– former Chatfield star and current Rochester United guard Christian Bance –– got there right on time. I’ve covered plenty of Tschetter’s games, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how big he really is.
“You’re like 215 or 220 pounds right?” I asked.
“What are you talking about bro, I’m 240,” Tschetter said with a laugh.
I didn’t believe him at first, but he promised to send a picture of the scale if I really needed that extra confirmation. He even said that one time he was up to 245 because he ate a bunch of food on vacation and didn’t work out at all. That was something I could relate to. He’s a legitimate 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds. I’m 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, so this big “strength” advantage that I thought I had? It was gone.
We slipped in the side door and got into the gym. I made sure to wear my Illinois Basketball hoodie because I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to chide Tschetter about the 76-53 whooping that Illinois handed No. 2 Michigan even without their All-American point guard Ayo Dosunmu on March 2. Illinois and Michigan didn’t really like each other too much this season after the saga over who was the rightful Big Ten champion.
“You know better than to wear that,” Tschetter shot back. “Also, do you want to talk about March Madness? That’s what I thought.”
I didn’t want to talk about the NCAA Tournament. Illinois and Michigan had both earned No. 1 seeds, but Illinois got upset by No. 8 Loyola in the Round of 32 while Michigan reeled off three impressive wins before falling to UCLA 51-49 in the Elite Eight.
But maybe my choice of sweatshirt awoke the beast. Tschetter started warming up, and I swear, it felt like he just never missed a shot. Splash, splash, splash.
And these shots were deep, like well beyond NBA range.
“I’m in danger,” I thought as my jumpers clanged off the side of the rim.
We agreed to play to 5. Each bucket was one point, and it was "make it, take it." Oh, and we had the 5-second rule. So, from the first dribble, you have 5 seconds to make your move. No lolly-gagging or offensive rebounding allowed.
I let Tschetter have the ball first because it was his home gym and he was five years younger than me –– and partially because I was petrified. He missed his first jumper, and I started to feel good. "Maybe he used up all his bullets during his white-hot stretch in warmups,” I thought with a smile.
I got the ball back at the top of the key and drove left. Tschetter is so much faster and stronger than I thought. But I got him up in the air with a pump fake and I slipped underneath his elbow for a midrange floater. No good. Tschetter’s hand clipped the side of my face and I had a nice little cut develop like an inch to the right of my left eye. I could already see the storyline forming. I was going to have blood streaming down my face like Braveheart and I was going to beat Tschetter.
That idea lasted for, like, 4 seconds.
Tschetter got the ball back and went to work. I was determined not to get dunked on, but that strategy doesn’t work at all when a 6-foot-9 forward is one of the best shooters in the state. He shot 44 percent from 3-point range in 2021, and he got hot in a hurry. He splashed five 3-pointers in a row. I didn’t touch the ball one more time in the first game, and it was 5-0 before I could blink.
"I’m in my zone,” Tschetter said. “You might be in trouble."
“When are you not in the zone?” I retorted.
I lied to myself and decided that Game 2 was going to be different. Tschetter will admit that sometimes he doesn’t always take good shots. But a bad shot for Tschetter and a bad shot for most other players around the country are very different.
He missed a couple shots, but I couldn’t get anything going. His combination of length and speed was something that you can’t replicate or really prepare for. He was right on my hip for every single drive and I couldn’t get an inch of space. I elevated for one 3-pointer to take an early 1-0 lead in Game 2, but that lead was short-lived. I had given him some space for deep 3-pointers in the first game, but in the second one, I was right up on his hip. But I quickly found out that defending Tschetter is basically getting to the point where you just hope the shots miss.
He was lights-out from 3, but then his midrange game is what really sets him apart. He drove right and spun to the rim. I was on his hip, but then, he’s able to discard and fall away for ridiculously good fadeaway jumpers.
Moments later, I was down 4-1 and he put the punctuation on Game 2 with an absurd 27-foot 3-pointer from the top of the key.
I kind of have a weird attribute of just being stubborn and not quitting, though. So, Game 3 was going to happen. This time, we started on the left wing, and Tschetter got the ball first. His first stepback 3-pointer was pure. 1-0.
Then, he went to the midrange game. He drove baseline and then spun away for another fadeaway baseline jumper. 2-0.
I got right underneath his chin, but he ripped through and went baseline for a rim-rocking reverse jam. 3-0.
“Okay well, at least he didn’t dunk ON me,” I thought.
Another step-back 3-pointer. 4-0.
“Can you just miss like one shot, please,” I begged.
For the last 20 minutes, I had gotten taken to school repeatedly. But now it was game point in Game 3. I couldn’t go out without a fight. Again, he started on the right wing and went to work. His handle is pretty tight for a 6-foot-9 big man, and he unleashed a killer crossover, between-the-legs stepback jumper. Except this time, I knew that he wanted that jumper for the game-winner and I didn’t budge. I was determined to get one stop and get the ball back. Tschetter made the cardinal sin of 1-on-1 and picked up his dribble. Remember there was a 4-second rule, so he had to get the shot up quickly. He faked to his right and then faked to his left. I was still there. Then he shot-faked and I leaped in the air. Somehow, someway, he pulled out this Luka Doncic-like move and slipped underneath my arm and unleashed a desperate floating 3-pointer from 25 feet.
Cash. 5-0. Ballgame.
“Are you kidding me? I’m done,” I yelled. “What else do you want me to do?”
“That's just what I do,” Tschetter said with a laugh.
I didn’t feel bad for losing. I mean, Tschetter is part of Michigan’s No. 1 recruiting class, and I’m writing about sports instead of playing sports for a reason. But it was the way it went down. It was a completely dominating performance on every single level. I felt kind of stupid for even thinking that I remotely had a chance.
But then the really good part was just getting started. I started rebounding for Tschetter and Bance as they got jumpers up, and it takes like 2 seconds to realize that Tschetter isn’t a superstar just because he’s tall. It’s all the extra things that really go into his rise from an unknown into a guy who could potentially play for a national championship one day with Michigan.
It wasn’t that long ago where no one outside of Stewartville really knew his name. And he’s all about putting in the work. During the season, he was getting up around 5 a.m. two or three times per week so that he could make the 25-minute drive from Stewartville to ETS Performance in Rochester to work out with Jake Kirsch –– the Director of Performance at ETS –– at 6:15 a.m. Tschetter would bring his little brother, Henry, to those workouts, too. Now that it’s the offseason, he’s there five times per week. That’s a big reason why he went from 220 pounds last September to a chiseled 240 pounds now. He used to struggle on the bench press. Now, he is able to bang out three reps of 200 pounds on the bench press, and that number is only going to go higher. His vertical increased four inches, too.
"The guy just loves the work,” Kirsch said. "He shows up to every session wanting to dominate whatever is on his individual program. A lot of the time I do more to slow him down than push him harder. It’s pretty clear how different he looked on the court this senior season compared to previous years which is just a testament to his consistency, willingness to learn and overall hard work. Henry is going to be a stud as well.”
It’s just part of the process for Tschetter. He’s getting plenty of individual work in on the court with various coaches in the area, and then, he’s coming in on his own time to get up shots with Bance or former Rochester Mayo star and current University of Utah guard Gabe Madsen.
Every move has a purpose, and he has an incredible knack for finding the flaw in his jumper or footwork and working effortlessly to get rid of it quickly. But he hasn’t lost that sense of humor or down-to-earth feel that makes him special. He hasn’t even met Michigan coach Juwan Howard in person yet due to strict protocols the NCAA has had about recruiting during the pandemic, but he already has a ton of great stories. Like the first time he ever talked to Howard was when he was on his pontoon boat on a lake. Or when Howard calls Tschetter's house a "cottage" even though it's clearly a cabin. Howard is the biggest reason why he’s going to Michigan. The former member of Michigan's Fab Five went on to be an NBA All-Star and long-time Miami Heat assistant coach. Howard saw something in Tschetter before a lot of other high-major coaches. Even though he was in Minnesota's backyard, Howard and Michigan offered Tschetter first. Michigan's top assistant Phil Martelli called him and proceeded to anoint him as one of “his guys.” Now, Tschetter gets daily inspirational text messages from Martelli.
“Do you know how much effort that takes to do that every day?” Tschetter said. “That really stood out to me.”
Many media outlets latched onto the fact that Tschetter doesn’t have social media during his summer explosion. That story has been discussed ad nauseam, but the real story is that Tschetter still sees the noise on Twitter and Instagram. There have been people that have questioned whether he’s good enough to go play for Michigan. Even his little brother, Henry, couldn’t believe (at first) that the Michigan offer was a real, committable offer. Tschetter knows that some people believe Michigan is just going to keep recruiting over him and that he’s not ever going to play.
Michigan was loaded this year and they’re going to be loaded yet again next year. Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate are the two five-star forwards that have Michigan fans salivating. Throw in four-stars like Frankie Collins, Kobe Bufkin and Isaiah Barnes and you have a special group, especially with the return of Big Ten Freshman of the Year Hunter Dickinson and super senior Eli Brooks.
Tschetter gets giddy thinking about playing with elite guards like Brooks and Collins. For the first time in his life, he’s not going to be the No. 1 guy on the opponent's scouting report, and honestly, that’s more than fine with him. He has a chip on his shoulder that won’t be going away anytime soon. He knows that he’s not the jewel of the recruiting class. It’d take a real die-hard Michigan fan to even know what value Tschetter will bring to the Wolverines. He knows there’s a chance he could get buried on the depth chart, but he’s determined to go to work. That’s what he does. That’s who he is.
That’s why Howard fell in love with him and thinks Michigan discovered a gem.
I believe it now. It's going to be a real treat when he torches Illinois for six 3-pointers. I can already see it.
End of a chapter
Two hours later, we walked out of the Stewartville gym and went our separate ways. There was a sense of finality about it. Tschetter isn’t going to don a Stewartville basketball jersey again. Maybe one day they will retire his No. 42 jersey.
Tschetter carries himself with confidence and a smile, but behind the scenes, it turns out that his senior year was one of the hardest years of his life. He had a special relationship with his grandma, Sharon Lee Morlock, but she was in hospice all year long and didn’t get to come to a single game, which was especially hard because she loved sports and loved watching Tschetter compete. She died on March 6, just four days after Stewartville’s last home game.
“My mom watched Will through very biased eyes,” Kasey Morlock said. “She never saw the missed layup, poor defense, or the rebound that got away. She watched Will joyfully.”
It’s not easy to just get over something like that. Later in the month, Caledonia knocked off Stewartville in the Section 1AA title game 78-61. Tschetter finished his last game with 29 points, 10 rebounds, two 3-pointers and three blocks. There were tears and anguish. It was the second year in a row that Caledonia’s dynasty ended Tschetter and the Tigers’ season in the section final. Back-to-back years where Tschetter came up just short on his goal to make it to the state tournament.
There’s going to be a changing of the guard at Stewartville next year. Tschetter isn’t going to be there, but Henry will be in line for a sophomore leap after a strong close to his freshman year. Henry has a chance to be great, too. Living up to an older brother who’s going to Michigan probably isn’t an easy task, but Henry flashed similar fiery, competitive moments this year that should set him up well for next year and beyond. It’s probably a smart bet to assume that Will’s littlest brother, Pete, is going to be a baller one day, too. They call Pete “Little Man” and in his first sixth-grade game this season, he splashed a deep 3-pointer on the very first play and celebrated like he hit the game-winner. Clearly, just a sign that all the brothers can shoot it.
Southeastern Minnesota is going to miss Will Tschetter. Stewartville is going to miss him even more. Opposing coaches in the Hiawatha Valley League probably won’t shed tears now that he's gone. He’s a special basketball player and an even more special person.
It’s like the chapter of a really good book coming to a close. It wasn’t the ending that Tschetter wanted at Stewartville, but it’s really hard to imagine Tschetter failing at Michigan. Not with that work ethic. Not with that determination to be great. Not with that silky smooth jumper that seemingly just never misses.
I learned all too well how good Will Tschetter is right now, and the scariest part is that he’s going to be even better in a couple of years.
But I still want a rematch.