VERMILLION, S.D. | Being selfish isn’t a trait A.J. Plitzuweit ever heard in regards to point guard play from his basketball coaching parents.
Vermillion Coach Jay Drake doesn’t like saying it either. However, when he hears the sweet 3-point swishes from a 6-foot-2 senior who averages 33.6 points and has ripped 126 treys in 35 games as a Tanager, he wants his shooting star to shine.
Plitzuweit has scored out of necessity this season. He made eight threes while erupting for 48 points Saturday as the Tanagers improved their record to 9-5 following an 81-62 win over Britton-Hecla at the Dakota XII/NEC Clash.
Incidentally, the Sioux City Journal’s Siouxland Athlete of the Week didn’t set the school’s single-game scoring record that day. Two weeks earlier, he blasted 52 points in a 72-66 Dakota XII win over Lennox.
“He can score in a variety of ways which makes him dangerous, a nightmare for opponents to try to defend,” said Drake. “When we played Sioux Falls Christian, they had two guys denying him all over. We’ve seen box-and-ones, triangles, extended zones, guys trying to trap him. The whole kitchen sink has been thrown at him.
“He doesn’t get rattled from what he sees from defenses. He doesn’t lose his composure. He shows a lot of poise. He’ll take what he can from a defense. We’ve asked him to be more selfish and take more shots. He tries to get his teammates involved. That’s what is so impressive.”
Plitzuweit’s mother Dawn is in her second season as South Dakota’s head women’s basketball coach and his father Jay coached high school basketball in Michigan, then Kentucky, for a combined 18 years. Their 18-year old son, who will continue his basketball career at NCAA Division II Augustana (S.D.), will reach 1,000 points as a Tanager if he scores 35 in Tuesday’s Dakota XII game at Beresford.
“It’s a credit to my teammates and my coaches for helping me get into position to score points,” said Plitzuweit, who won Class A first-team all-state honors while averaging 23.6 points for last season’s 17-4 squad. “I just let the game come to me. Usually in the beginning and the middle, I’ll keep my teammates involved and see how it goes as the game progresses.”
A 51.9 percent shooter who also has career-high averages of 9.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.9 steals, Plitzuweit drives to kick out passes and give teammates scoring options. He’ll hit 6-2 senior forward Carter Larson (5.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg) for mid-range jumpers.
Sam Ward (9.0 ppg), a 5-9 sophomore shooting guard, often gets 3-point passes. Two senior guards, 6-foot Josh Prescott (7.2 ppg) and 5-9 Riley Johnson (3.7 ppg). also start for a program that last reached the state tournament in 1989 with a second straight Class A crown.
Plitzuweit credited each of these teammates for his 48, particularly Ward’s dribble-penetration and the screens from Prescott and Larson.
“About the mid-second quarter and early third quarter, I found my rhythm,” said Plitzuweit. “My teammates helped me find my rhythm. I got in a scoring groove. It’s a good feeling when you get that groove. Anything you throw up can go in. The basket looks bigger, a little wider. Every game I get a stretch when everything feels good.”
Plitzuweit averaged 8.5 points as a sophomore point guard at Dixie Heights High School, located in Fort Mitchell, Ky., just south of Cincinnati, Ohio. At that time, his mother coached Northern Kentucky to a 19-14 record, a fourth consecutive WBI berth and that was 10 seasons after she coached Grand Valley State (Mich.) to the NCAA Division II national championship.
She was named South Dakota’s 10th women’s basketball coach on April 22, 2016. Her son met Cooper Williams, then a Vermillion senior-to-be (now a redshirt freshman at Dakota Wesleyan), and the two of them shot the summer away. He also got to know future teammates.
“Vermillion was a good community from the beginning,” said Plitzuweit. “They welcomed our family. I made friends quickly. It was good transition. When I moved here, I got stronger as a player and my role expanded more.”
One of those new teammates that Plitzuweit met that summer, 6-foot guard Rylan Pratt, tore his ACL last football season. Hence, Plitzuweit’s role change to expanded scoring as a senior.
“Without Rylan and with only one very good player, we knew we had limited varsity experience,” said Drake. “We’ve needed him to score as much as he has to keep us in basketball games.”
Logan Kingsbury, Ponca.... The senior guard recently became the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,346 points, passing 2000 graduate J.D. Roberts’ 1,329. Kingsbury also became Ponca’s career assist and steal leader this season.
Gable Sieperda, Central Lyon/George-Little Rock.... Third-ranked among Class 2A 138-pound weight class wrestlers by The Predicament, Sieperda repeated as the Siouxland Conference champion at 138. Sieperda (35-1) had three first-period pins in the tournament.