Not one, but two entirely separate top basketball honors have been bestowed upon MHS senior Paul Jesperson.
Jesperson was picked by state sportswriters for the AP Player Of The Year, and by a state-wide media panel for the Gatorade State Player of the Year.
“It’s really an honor,” Jesperson said. “There were a lot of other people nominated. It’s definitely really cool and I’m proud to get them.
“I had a decent season, but I wasn’t sure what they were going to do.”
MHS coach Kurt Soderberg was more than pleased for Jesperson.
“Both awards are really exciting and very well-deserved,” he said. “The time he spends on the court in games is minimal compared to what he spends in the gym preparing for the games.
“The AP award is neat because sportswriters throughout Wisconsin voted on it so it holds a lot of weight. The Gatorade award is nice because it’s a different group of voters and it looks at transcripts and community service.”
Jesperson-a 6′ 7″ player who often played point guard and was virtually unpressable-averaged 22.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.7 assist and 1.8 steals over the course of a season that saw Merrill collect its first state trophy as the D2 runner-up.
“I could sum (his contributions) up with a conversation I had with a college coach friend of mine who hadn’t seen us play (before state),” Soderberg said. “He gave me a call when I got back and said, ‘Man, that kid does everything.’
“Everything you need a player to do, he does. He could literally guard anybody. That’s huge for a coach because match-ups are everything. Paul gave us a lot of flexibility in that regard.
“One of the true pleasures in the whole process as a coach is you get to see kids’ progress. Every game I’ve coached at Merrill, he started. That’s crazy. He was good enough to start from his first game as a freshman and he stayed healthy.”
Jesperson was also heavily in the running for the Mr. Basketball award for a sweep of the three top individual honors, to the point Soderberg received a call saying it was almost a done deal. But in the 11th hour voters decided they couldn’t give it to a player that wasn’t POY of his conference. In the Valley, that honor went to the other unanimous WVC choice, Joe Ritchay, since his Rapids’ squad was a perfect 12-0.
Soderberg felt the Hall of Fame coach voters should understand that often a conference will factor team into the POY equation.
“I was hot,” Soderberg said. “I didn’t think it was a fair decision. That moment when I had to tell Paul he wasn’t getting it, I expected to be consoling him, but he was consoling me.
“Paul never assumes he will receive these awards and he is humbled by them. You’ll have to hear it from somebody else, because he’s not going to tell you.”
Jesperson leaves Merrill as the all-time leading scorer with 1696 points, 574 more than Jordan Stine. The two-time unanimous First Team All-State and All-Conference player holds school records for most starts (96), 3-pointers made (69 to break last year’s mark of 63), attempted (174), free throws made (174), season points (631 in 2010-11 to break last year’s mark of 539) and ppg (22.5 in 2010-11).
Now Jesperson prepares for his collegiate career with Virginia.
“I’m excited,” he said. “The first chapter of my life is closed and I’m ready to open up the second chapter. I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work, and I plan on working hard to get to be an elite player at that level. It should be a good learning experience.”
Jesperson felt he received a small taste of major college play at state this year.
“The ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) is a very physical conference,” he said. “I’m sure once I put on some weight and get stronger, I’ll take some of those hits and finish better around the hoop, too.
“Playing Duke and North Carolina will be crazy next year. I thought it was nuts (at state) but it will be double that there.”
The plan is to beef up a bit before heading out to Virginia in early June.
“I weigh about 185, and I want to get as close as I can to 200,” Jesperson said. “I think I can do it easily before I leave school if I keep lifting weights.”