Zech Clemens scores in bunches, hits deep 3-pointers and runs in transition. But he’s perhaps best known for exploding through the air for a rim-rattling dunk.
“He’s a beast,” Northwestern coach Anthony Redman said. “I am probably never going to have a player like him again athletic-wise. He always surprises me with how high he gets. I don’t even know how high he can really get to be honest.”
The 6-foot-4 springy shooting guard has soared through the air multiple times this season. He threw one down off the opening tip against Potter County on Dec. 20, posterized a Waverly-South Shore player on Jan. 2 and jumped so high against Ipswich on Jan. 7 he hit his head on the backboard.
“The kid just kind of surprises me every time,” Redman added. “I don’t know what he is going to pull next.”
Clemens began trying to dunk in the seventh grade with volleyballs and dodgeballs. He missed his first attempt in a game during his eighth-grade season. But his freshman season came and he jammed one in the season opener.
He’s been doing it ever since.
“It kept coming natural to me,” Clemens said. “I just kept getting better and better. It’s awesome.”
It’s now part of his arsenal and it can help spark the Wildcats on the court. Against Waverly-South Shore, teammate Jace Haven stole the ball at midcourt and found Clemens sprinting toward the basket. Clemens took one dribble, put down a one-handed dunk and drew the foul.
“Immediately you could feel the momentum surge toward us,” Clemens said. “They were with us the whole game and after that, the bench got into it and the crowd got into it. It was just awesome. That’s what I love about basketball is the crowd getting into it. That feeling is indescribable.”
Clemens doesn’t spend much time practicing dunks anymore, but instead lets them come naturally during the game. He patterns his dunks after Houston Rockets all-star Russell Westbrook, who also wears No. 0 like Clemens and stands 6-foot-3.
“His dunks are so explosive,” Clemens said. “He’s a shorter player, but he can dunk like one of the big guys.”
Clemens is about more than dunks. He is a four-year starter and was a first-team all-stater last season, averaging 25.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He’s closing in on Chad Boekelheide’s school record of 1,633 career points.
Last season, Clemens led Northwestern to the cusp of qualifying for its first state tournament since 2002. But the Wildcats lost to Viborg-Hurley 58-55 in overtime of a SoDak16 qualifying game at the Corn Palace.
It’s now a driving force behind Northwestern’s season.
“We got that taste and we all know that we want it again and we want that feeling again,” Clemens said. “We are all willing to work pretty hard to get to that point again.”
Clemens is also a college basketball prospect, but said won’t make his decision until two weeks after the season ends. He’s talking with in-state schools Dakota Wesleyan, Northern State, Dakota State and Presentation College. Morningside College called Redman on Wednesday to check in on Clemens.
But just like when he watches him play, Redman doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.
“I can’t wait to see what he has in store for the future for himself and I can’t wait to see him play at the next level,” Redman said.
Schwenn’s swat helps preserve two-point win
Bennett Schwenn scored 12 points in Milbank’s victory over Webster on Jan. 2, but his blocked shot in the second quarter proved to be the difference.
The Bulldogs committed a turnover around midcourt and a Webster player appeared to have an easy breakaway layup. But Schwenn came sprinting in seemingly out of nowhere and swatted the shot to preserve a then-two advantage. The Bulldogs won 56-54.
New 1,000-point club members
Three girls basketball players scored their 1,000th career point on Jan. 4, while one boys basketball player hit the milestone on Jan. 7.
Tripp-Delmont/Armour’s Kianna Payer reached the milestone in a 44-17 win over Freeman Academy/Marion. Payer finished with 11 points in the win. The senior guard added 17 points as TDA defeated Bon Homme 54-31 on Thursday.
Mount Vernon/Plankinton’s Katlyn Briggs hit her 1,000th career point as the Titans beat Platte-Geddes, 56-41. Briggs finished with 20 points in the victory. The senior post contributed nine points and 15 rebounds in MVP’s 62-53 win over Tri-Valley.
Kaylee Wells surpassed 1,000 career points on her first basket of the game in Crow Creek’s 56-54 win over West Central. The senior center finished with 26 points.
Dakota Valley’s Paul Bruns netted his 1,000th career point in a 74-68 victory over Sergeant Bluff-Luton (Iowa) on Jan. 7. The junior guard finished with 19 points in the win. Bruns added 25 points and 10 rebounds as Dakota Valley lost to MOC-Floyd Valley (Iowa) on Thursday. You can read more about Bruns here:
Weekly honor roll
The high-scoring performances continued to roll in over the past week. Here’s a look back at some top performers from this past week:
Boys top performers
Brady Fritz netted 29 points for the Warriors in the loss against Dell Rapids St. Mary. The junior guard added 33 points as Winner defeated Chamberlain 68-64 on Tuesday.
Nick Wittler led Sully Buttes with 33 points in a 57-42 victory over Highmore-Harrold on Thursday. He also had 24 points as the Chargers rallied back to defeat Mobridge-Pollock by a 54-53 margin on Jan. 4.
Tash Lunday put in 30 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in Flandreau’s 77-59 win over Castlewood on Jan. 4. The 6-foot-5 sophomore added 17 points and 10 rebounds in Flandreau’s win over Garretson on Thursday. Lunday logged 25 points and 18 rebounds in a 53-50 loss against Parker on Friday.
Connor Libis poured in 30 points in Dell Rapids St. Mary’s 65-59 victory over Winner at the Sacred Hoops Classic on Jan. 4. Libis scored 23 points as the Cardinals dropped a top-five showdown against De Smet on Friday.
De Smet’s Kalen Garry led a balanced scoring attack with 25 points in the Bulldogs 63-44 win over Dell Rapids St. Mary.
Lower Brule’s Baptiste Pourier scored 28 points in a 52-44 victory over Kimball/White Lake at the Sacred Hoops Classic on Jan. 4.
Luke Wells led Crow Creek with 26 points in a 75-49 victory over West Central at the Sacred Hoops Classic on Jan. 4.
Chase Arend put in 31 points, 6 steals and 5 rebounds in Bridgewater-Emery’s 82-35 win over Freeman on Friday.
Leola-Frederick’s Haydn Podoll posted 27 points in a 66-46 victory over Oakes, North Dakota, on Thursday.
Viborg-Hurley’s Gradee Sherman registered 21 points and nine rebounds in a 61-39 victory over Elk Point-Jefferson on Tuesday.
Girls top performers
Avon’s Shalayne Nagel registered a triple-double (24 points, 12 rebounds, 11 steals) to lead Avon past Colome 67-47 in girls basketball action on Monday. She also dished out four assists.
Ady Dwight erupted for 39 points and 21 rebounds as Langford Area posted a 63-50 win over Herreid/Selby Area on Friday. The Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball recruit also recorded her 1,000th career rebound.
Olivia Kieffer posted 30 points as Rapid City Christian knocked off Wall 53-32 on Friday.
Haleigh Timmer paced St. Thomas More with 27 points, nine rebounds and four steals as the Cavaliers defeated Elk Point-Jefferson 55-26 on Friday.
Kennadi Buchholz put in 23 points as De Smet defeated Dell Rapids St. Mary 52-33 on Friday.
Lennox’s Madysen Vlastuin had a pair of 20-point games in the past week. The South Dakota State University recruit posted 25 points in Lennox’s 57-37 win over Rock Valley (Iowa) on Thursday. She had 23 points and six rebounds in a 54-40 victory over Mount Vernon/Plankinton on Tuesday.
Flandreau’s Hannah Parsley finished with 24 points in a 43-38 victory over Castlewood on Tuesday.
Howard’s Hilary Albrecht logged 24 points, 10 rebounds and four steals in a 49-30 win over Colman-Egan on Monday. She added 14 points, nine rebounds and seven steals in a 54-48 victory over Menno on Tuesday. She continued to stuff the stat sheet with 15 points and nine rebounds in a 48-45 victory over Sanborn Central/Woonsocket on Thursday.
Freshman Avery Broughton continued her stellar season with 21 points, seven rebounds, six steals and four assists in Corsica-Stickney’s 66-22 win over Gayville-Volin on Monday.
Centerville’s Haley Miller posted 26 points, 10 steals, eight rebounds and four assists as Centerville topped Freeman Academy/Marion 49-17 on Thursday.
Moore commits to University of Sioux Falls
Sioux Falls O’Gorman’s Isabelle Moore recently tweeted her intentions to play basketball for the University of Sioux Falls.
Moore is a junior guard for the Knights and is the daughter of former Lyman boys basketball standout, Keith Moore.
The Knights are currently No. 1 in Class AA with a 6-0 record. Senior post Emma Ronsiek will play basketball next season at Creighton.
Here are a few items to keep an eye for the upcoming week:
Two girls basketball powers from two different states will clash today. Class A No. 2 Lennox will take on Nebraska’s C-2 No. 5 Crofton at the Mustang Seeds/Dakota State University Classic in Madison. Lennox (7-0) is powered by three players that have signed to play basketball next season in Madysen Vlastuin (SDSU), Isabel Ihnen (DWU) and Rianna Fillipi (NSU). Crofton (10-2) is a Nebraska powerhouse and has played in 12 state championships since 2005. The Warriors are paced by Alexis Arens, who will play next season at Mount Marty College.
The No. 2 De Smet boys are coming off a nice win over No. 4 Dell Rapids St. Mary, and it will now face an upstart Howard squad. The Bulldogs took down the Cardinals 63-44 on Friday in a highly-anticipated top-five matchup. De Smet (5-1) will now play at Howard on Tuesday in another big Class B clash. The Tigers sport a 7-0 mark and have the pieces to make a deep run this postseason. Tuesday’s matchup should be a good test for both squads.
Jones County Invitational on Jan. 16-18 in Murdo. It doesn’t get much better than this small-town tourney, which is now in its 52nd year. The boys basketball tourney features eight West River communities that will pack the gym for three days straight, culminating with Championship Night on Saturday. If you love Class B basketball, you have to check this tourney out. It’s worth the experience and you might even see John Thune. We profiled the tourney in 2018.