Norse making moves; add ’22 senior All-State forward LJ Wells

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One-on-One with Eau Clair Memorial coach Chad Brieske

As the college basketball world’s Transfer Portal continues to rhythmically rumble to the tune of one eye-popping transfer notification alert after another, some mid-major schools are finding that now is the time to dig back into the uber-deep high school pool of players still searching for their future college home.  While there is still plenty of talent to be found in the Transfer Portal, one Horizon League member thus far is adopting the old baseball adage of “smacking singles and doubles” to keep the base paths full, in lieu of trying to hit a grand slam on every proverbial swing. 

Northern Kentucky University has yet to lure a seasoned transfer out of college basketball’s new, chic “free agency market,” but earlier this week announced that they have received a verbal commitment from Class of 2022 senior forward L.J. Wells.  The Norse originally offered the 6-8 Old Abes standout from Eau Claire Memorial High School (Wisc.) in March, and Wells chose the Norse over firm offers from the likes of Toledo, U-Milwaukee, University of Mary, Minot State and St. Cloud – Wells was also receiving heavy interest from various other Division I-II programs.

By The Numbers…

Junior Year: 14.2 Points per game, 8.6 Rebounds per game, 1.5 Assists per game, 1.2 Blocks per game.  Shot 53% from field, 65% from free throw line and 26% from behind the arc. 

Senior Year: 15.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.3 bpg.  Shot 51 FG% from the field, 70% from free throw line and 31% from behind the arc. 

I had some time for an exclusive “10 Questions – 1 v. 1” session with Old Abes head coach Chad Brieske.  Here’s what we found out about NKU’s newest frosh-to-be wing:

(1)     What position did L.J. play for ECMHS?

“We (Eau Claire Memorial HS) play a position-less style of basketball. L.J. played what we called a ‘hybrid’ in our offensive concept.  It probably matches what most people would term a forward.  However, this limits what he truly did on the court as he was tasked with playing with the ball in his hand as well as off the ball.  His versatility was utilized on a game-to-game basis.” 

(2)     Outside of just his position, what was his role on the team on and off the court?

“L.J. was on our leadership council. In terms of on the court he was asked to be an offensive and defensive force.”  

(3)     How many years did he play Varsity for ECM?

“LJ played 2 seasons of Varsity for us at Eau Claire Memorial.”

(4)     What are his greatest strengths and possible weaknesses as a player? What traits does he possess that sets him apart from others?

“LJ is extremely athletic.  He has the ability to guard 1-5 (all players on the court) as he has the size to match traditional posts and the foot speed to stay with guards.  LJ made us unique. His ability to be a dynamic athlete created difficult matchups for our opponents.  His team first mentality also allowed us to become the best version of ourselves.   He is still developing as an offensive player, and his best days are ahead of him as he continues to work on his jump shot. His most impressive trait is his feel for the game. His ability to time shot blocking opportunities, get his teammates involved, and assert himself when needed was an essential part of our success the past two seasons.” 

(5)     Is he a vocal leader or a lead-by-example guy?

“LJ is a lead-by-example type kid.  He is quiet by nature, but a fierce competitor is just below the surface.”

(6)     LJ has the ball in his hands with the game tied up and 4-5 seconds left on the game clock. What is he most likely to do with the ball?

“LJ would put pressure on the rim from any spot on the floor.  He was unselfish enough to make reads in this situation that moved the ball to an open teammate when the defensive coverage called for that read.”

(7)     Give me an example of a moment on the court when LJ was playing and you realized he could be special or play at the next level.

“His first game of Varsity his junior year we were down 12-0 to a very good Onalaska team.  They had a 6’6 D2 player that we were having a difficult time defending and accounting for.  LJ entered the game and proceeded to block his shot on consecutive possessions and get a tip in dunk.  We were quickly back in the game. At that point, I realized LJ wouldn’t be leaving the floor for long stretches.”

(8)   What advice have you given LJ on how to handle life as a basketball player moving on to the college level?

“I have encouraged LJ to follow his passion and understand the sacrifices it will take to become an elite player.  He is a good student with a wonderful personality that will enhance NKU.  His social awareness and his empathy are often overlooked characteristics of his.  He understands that he has been given a gift, but it is his responsibility to nurture and cultivate that gift into what he wants to do with it.”  

(9)   What Awards/Honors did LJ earn during his hoops career under your tenure as his coach?

“LJ was a 2nd team All-Conference Big Rivers Selection; Honorable Mention WBCA All-State; and Special Mention AP All-State selection (in Wisconsin).” 

(10)  Lastly, sell me on your high school program a bit.  What was your team’s records/rankings/how far did you go in the state tourney the past 4 years, etc.

“LJ has been an instrumental piece to returning the rich history of tournament success to Eau Claire Memorial.  His Junior season we were picked to finish second-to-last in the conference and instead finished 3rd in our league and ended up getting the #1 seed in our regional grouping.  This year (2021-22) we ended 22-5, with the 22 wins being the most wins since 2003.  We won the conference title for the first time since 2016; we won a Regional Final for the first time since 2005; we appeared in the Elite 8 for the first time since 2003.  We finished the year ranked #4 in the State and lost to the #1 ranked team (eventual State Champion) in the Elite 8 game.”

The Norse have historically made their mark with rosters full of long, athletic players that can serve multiple roles on the floor. As the program continues to fill vacancies in their roster while making efforts to account for the transfer portal losses of forwards Adrian Nelson (Youngstown State), David Bohm (Eastern Washington) and Seybian Sims (TBA), the recruitment of a long and athletic player like L.J. Wells makes sense if the Norse intend to continue this style of basketball. 

Are the Norse finished scouring the high school ranks for impact talent? 

Stay tuned to HoriZoneRoundtable.com to find out!

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Freelance Writer and Staff Writer for the HoriZone Roundtable, covering college basketball, the Horizon League and Northern Kentucky University athletics.

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