It’s all smiles and congratulations the day a high school athlete signs his or her letter of intent for a college or university program.
GW Graham’s Cole Wicker was in that spot last week, committing to the Red Deer College Kings.
In the moment, he said he felt a huge sense of relief that it was done.
That’s because behind the scenes, there can be a ton of stress and anxiety leading up to the moment when an athlete and a school finally come together.
“There’s pressure when you’re waiting for a school to get back to you, wondering if they really like you,” the Grade 12 student admitted. “A school can show interest in you and you can get excited, only to have that interest fade away after just one game.
“You’re waiting for an email or an offer and it’s really hard. There were some nights where I definitely didn’t sleep because I was wondering where I’d be next year.”
Some players are able to lock down a commitment early.
GWG senior girls star Deanna Tuchscherer had hers wrapped up in the very early part of the 2018-19 b-ball season, but she’s an exceptional case.
The majority have to wait until their high school season is done and hope they’ve played well enough to get noticed.
Wicker’s opportunity came to him late.
GWG teammate Geevon Janday was heading to Alberta to visit the RDC campus and Wicker was invited to join him. The six-foot-four wingman impressed Kings coach Clayton Pottinger enough to get an offer.
“Once Red Deer finally gave me an offer and I was able to put it to bed, it was nice, just knowing it was over and done with,” Wicker said.
The Grizzly had other options, but they weren’t quite the right fit.
At times he was in contact with UBC-Okanagan, Capilano College, Vancouver Island University and Okanagan College.
“I went to an ID camp at Okanagan College (Kelowna) two weeks before I went to Red Deer and I really enjoyed it,” Wicker said. “They have a great facility and I really liked the players and they eventually did make an offer, but it couldn’t work.
“I want to take kinesiology. The basketball team practices in Kelowna but all my courses would have been in Penticton and there’d be an hour drive back and forth.”
Red Deer College had everything Wicker wanted.
Academic offerings? Check.
Good facilities? Check.
No commuting? Check.
Good coaching? Check.
Beautiful locale? Check.
RDC is like the beautiful girl you want to ask out, but you’re not sure she’s into you.
“You have to have a lot of mental strength and you’ve got to be ready to keep rolling through,” Wicker said. “If one school passes on you, hopefully there’s another school that’s into you.
“You have to wait and see when your opportunities will come up. I didn’t have an offer when my season ended, so I had to go to all these ID camps to get my name out there and show people I’m still a good player.”
The best advice the teenager got came from his dad, who told him to keep his head up.
“He always said that when one door closes another door opens,” Wicker said. “That was especially true with this process.
“There was a time after our season ended when I thought maybe it wasn’t going to happen for me, and it was like a huge monkey being lifted off my back when it finally came through.
“I’ve never felt more joy in my life.”
So it’s done and Wicker now gets to look forward to the fall and his Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference debut.
RDC plays in a 15-team league.
The ACAC is split into northern and southern divisions.
RDC plays in the eight-team south division that includes the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), Medicine Hat College, Ambrose University, Lethbridge College, Olds College, St. Mary’s University and Briercrest College.
In an interesting twist, the coach that recruited Wicker is no longer at RDC.
Pottinger has since left for UBC-O, which creates some uncertainty.
“I’d love to play for him because he’s a really nice coach and he has all the respect of the players,” Wicker said. “But I’m guessing whoever they hire is going to be good at player development and help me get to the level I want to be at.”
Wicker expects the college game to be a notch or two faster than the high school game, which will be a challenging adjustment.
“Footspeed is one thing I’m working on because I don’t think I’m as fast as I need to be,” he said. “If I get my footspeed to where it needs to be, I can be more effective defending and jab-stepping and beating my guy quicker and I think I’ll be in a good place four years down the road.”
Wicker expects to play small forward/shooting guard and expects to face more physical hands-on defence, so mission two is getting in the weight room to put more muscle on his slender frame.
“I’ve been building it up for a while and I feel like I’m ready,” Wicker said. “(Coach Jake) Mouritzen has put a lot more tools in my toolbox, adding different moves and finishes at the hoop so that when the physicality comes I’ve still got ways to beat my guy.
“I feel my shooting is a strength that will help me at the next level. I’m a good shooter now, and shooting is shooting wherever you play.”
Wicker averaged 15.9 points per game with GWG last season, shooting 49 per cent from the field and 74 per cent from the free-throw line. He added 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals and .25 blocks per game.
Mouritzen is confident Wicker has the talent and the work ethic to succeed.
“Cole choose to take the journey down the elite basketball road later then some that have come before him at Graham,” the coach noted. “It wasn’t until Grade 10 that Cole decided he would focus on basketball 100 per cent. Since the day he made this decision he has done everything the Graham basketball program asks of our athletes.
“Three years later Cole bleeds blue and white, and has established himself as one of the elite shooting guards in the province. While the Graham basketball family is going to miss Cole, we know he is going to go on to do great things at Red Deer College and beyond.”