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Total Tiger: Spicer evolves into complete player for DWU

During the 2013-14 season, Matt Wilber's scholarship offer to Jason Spicer got better and better. The same could be said for Spicer's basketball career. Spicer was a role player early in high school and college, but now the Dakota Wesleyan Univer...

Dakota Wesleyan University men's basketball senior Jason Spicer poses for a portrait at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Dakota Wesleyan University men's basketball senior Jason Spicer poses for a portrait at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

During the 2013-14 season, Matt Wilber's scholarship offer to Jason Spicer got better and better.

The same could be said for Spicer's basketball career.

Spicer was a role player early in high school and college, but now the Dakota Wesleyan University men's basketball offense goes through him. The senior center leads the Tigers in points (19.3), rebounds (5.7), assists (5.6), field goal percentage (60.1) and blocked shots (22).

"With us probably not having a traditional point guard ... you have to make adjustments as you go through that and that was a work in progress throughout the year," DWU coach Matt Wilber said. "It kind of became more and more evident that our point guard might be our five man."

Spicer played sparingly his first two seasons, but became a vocal point last season and averaged a team-best 21.4 points and grabbed 7.2 rebounds per game. He scored his 1,000th-career point at the NAIA Division II National Tournament and was an honorable mention All-American.

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"You will see that sometimes from big guys in college that make the jump from sophomore to junior year," Wilber said. "It's an adjustment. He definitely was the perfect example of that."

Spicer's college career is similar to his prep experience at Sioux Falls Roosevelt. He was a role player early on, but started his senior season when the Rough Riders won the Class AA state title in 2014. He averaged a modest 9.6 points and seven rebounds per game as a senior. Wilber was recruiting Roosevelt all-staters Colton Kooima and Chris Phillips, but the DWU coach was also impressed each time he watched Spicer play.

"I offered him a package and I would go back and watch him again," Wilber said. "I'd be like 'I didn't offer you enough money.' He's the only guy I have ever done that with where I think I made three or four different offers to him."

Fellow Great Plains Athletic Conference schools-Northwestern College and Morningside College-were also in the mix, but they wanted Spicer as a junior varsity player and he liked what Wilber was offering.

"I don't think they were as adamant about me as much as coach Wilber was, and coach Wilber, he made it tough for me to say no and I am really glad he made it that way," Spicer said.

But much like his high school career, Spicer had to wait his turn to earn valuable minutes at the center position. Playing behind All-American Jalen Voss and all-conference performer Terrell Newton, Spicer averaged close to five points and two rebounds per game his first two seasons for DWU.

With Voss and Newton out of the mix after graduation, the 6-foot-6 Spicer made changes to his body and had the biggest jump from his sophomore to junior season. He weighed around 250 pounds as a sophomore, but dropped at least 20 pounds after dedicating himself in the weight room, in the gym and watching what he ate.

"I ran some more. I ate better and I just got shots up and worked on my game," Spicer said. "That's all I did for that summer. I worked on my game for the past four summers, but my sophomore to junior year, I really took a turn where I was like 'All right, something needs to happen now.' "

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Spicer said he began playing with more confidence after making the transformation and it shows on the court. He currently has 1,570 career points (15th most in school history), 543 career rebounds and 336 career assists.

"He's got just a high-basketball I.Q.," Northwestern College coach Kris Korver said. "When your point guard is your center, it's just a little backward. ... Coach (Wilber) has done a good job training him and unleashing him. He's blossomed here."

Spicer leads the Great Plains Athletic Conference in assists per game and is 10th nationally in the category.

"That's remarkable because we have to get it to him first," Wilber said. "When point guards have the assist, the ball is in their hands all the time. All of his assists, we have to work to get him the ball."

Playing in a motion-style offense, Spicer does most his passing damage from the high post and also uses his nimble footwork down low to maneuver around the basket.

"It's something that I think helps elevate my game to a different part because obviously there are great scorers but those are sometimes one dimensional," Spicer said about dishing out assists. "I like trying to be a multi-faceted player and I think it helps our team overall."

Spicer and the team are now making another push toward the NAIA Division II tournament, which this season is in Sioux Falls-Spicer's hometown. The No. 17 Tigers (20-9, 10-7 GPAC) play Concordia University (17-11, 8-9 GPAC) in Seward, Nebraska, today in their regular season finale.

Spicer, a business management major, plans on sticking around Mitchell after this season and work toward his master's degree at DWU. He'll likely be a graduate assistant for the Tigers.

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"I am lucky to be a part of something special and especially in this community," Spicer said. "This community has been great to me and I don't really want to leave it that bad. So I think I am going to try to stick around for another year."

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