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Wednesday

July 2014

30

Basketball

Schlundt departs OHS hoops

Oconomowoc junior TJ Schlundt takes a shot last November.

Oconomowoc junior TJ Schlundt takes a shot last November. Photo by: Scott Ash

Oconomowoc sharpshooter T.J. Schlundt has elected to leave Oconomowoc High School and will play his senior basketball season as part of the St. John's Northwestern Military Academy post-graduate program this winter.

Schlundt, a three-year starter for the Raccoons varsity, leaves the program as the third-leading scorer in school history (1,054 points) in 69 games (16.1 average). He has received buzz as one of the state's best in his class, and he has Division 1 scholarship offers on the table from UW-Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Drake and UW-Green Bay.

Schlundt, the son of former Marquette University basketball player Terrell Schlundt, was the key cog for a Raccoons team that finished 9-15 last year. He capped his Oconomowoc career with a memorable performance, hitting a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left as part of a 25-point performance when OHS rallied down 17 in the second half to beat Verona in the regional opener, 76-73. The team went 14-10 and 10-13 in Schlundt's first two seasons in the program.

He'll be a pioneer at SJNMA, which will enter its fourth season and first with a player holding undergraduate status on the team. Program director Brian Richert has openly aimed to involve local players — Arrowhead's Charles Rushman and Russ Finco, and SJNMA varsity player D.J. Mlachnik were other examples — but this is the first time the program has opened to players still in high school. It will essentially function like a prep school for Schlundt.

"For us to hang with what we call the top programs in the country — they're all taking high schoolers and post-grads — it was a no-brainer," Richert said. "Last year, we were top 10 in the country. If we're going to be the elite of the elite, we need to bring our standards up. T.J. will be our first (undergrad), and we're implementing a whole new program just for him and future T.J.s. We're getting this program going where I'd like to have three or four high-schoolers mixed in with post grads."

Richert was cognizant of the challenging factors in play, notably a standout player leaving his prep program before his senior year.

"We want to be very careful becuase we don't want to disrespect Oconomowoc," Richert said. "They've been great to him. I know that, he knows that, his family knows that. (At SJNMA), he's going to be playing against D1 athletes every game now. They're all going to be T.J.s all over the floor, or better than T.J. He's at a great level already; now we will see how high he can go."

Schlundt will get to compete against some of the nation's best post-graduate talent, with the idea of attending a Division 1 college program in 2014-15. However, the option remains for him to return to SJNMA for a second year if needed.

Tough call

Oconomowoc boys basketball coach Kurt Melton said the Schlundt family had been investigating the possibility for some time and was very open in the process.

"I knew he was struggling with the decision for a long time," Melton said. "It wasn't a complete surprise.

"I wish T.J. the best," he added. "I told my kids (on the team) it's an opportunity for everybody, more minutes, more shots. At the same time, T.J. is going to have an opportunity to do some of the things he wants to do. We love the kid, and he's going to be a Raccoon for the rest of his life."

That jives with what Richert would like to see, adding that he hopes Schlundt still remains a part of the Oconomowoc community. As a day student taking high-school courses, Schlundt will still have the opportunity to spend his weekends off campus.

"I didn't pressure him because I knew this would be the hardest decision," Richert said. "I wasn't calling him every day. I said, 'When you come to your decision and truly believe in your heart this is what you want to do, contact me.'"

Delicate issue

Richert, who himself lives in Oconomowoc, said his biggest fear with the new arrangement is that varsity coaches will worry SJNMA is trying to recruit players away before their varsity tenure is complete.

"I don't want these high school coaches to resent me and think I'm out to steal their players," he said. "That's not the case. I'm a community guy. My kids are in seventh and fifth grade and coming through the ranks in Oconomowoc. What are people going to think? When T.J. came to me and started talking, it's a no-brainer in terms of helping a kid, a talented young man who has a love for this game beyond what a lot of people have. I just want to help the kid, that's all I want to do.

"I know he met with Coach Melton, and that was something very important to me. I was saying, 'I will not accept you into our program until you get support from Oconomowoc.' I think he did it professionally. There's never a good way to leave a program, so we try to make it the best he could possibly make it, and I respect T.J. for that. He's willing to do whatever he's got to do to chase his dream, and I applaud that."

The program, which delivers roughly 75 percent of its players to Division 1 college programs and several more to Division 2 and Division 3 squads, will once again travel to several tournaments around the country playing elite-level post-graduate programs. Though Richert will have his desired local presence on the team, he also has a decidedly non-local presence, with a point guard from Egypt and forwards from Greece and Nigeria scheduled to play.

"With international kids, there's no sense of entitlement," Richert said. "They want to be here so bad that they're willing to do whatever it takes to stay. With our resources, we'll probably be the only post grad school that will have all these internationals."

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