Men’s basketball: Committed and ready

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June 14, 2010

12:56 AM

Even with his senior year still to come, Tom Schalk had seen enough. The junior from Minnesota’s Apple Valley High School, 20 minutes south of downtown Minneapolis, was ready to end his college recruitment just 10 months after it truly started. The forward held a scholarship offer from Wofford and was highly coveted by Cornell, but it was the small school from Virginia that held his interest, the one that had never made the NCAA tournament and nobody from Apple Valley had ever really heard of. On May 26, Tom Schalk wanted to play for the College of William and Mary.

“I decided I didn’t see any reason to wait, and that I wasn’t going to find a better fit than William and Mary,” Shalk said. “So I just decided to commit.”

With that decision, the junior became the next piece in the basketball renaissance of the historically beleaguered Tribe. A 6’ 7” forward who is equally adept in the post or on the wing, Schalk will come to Williamsburg in the fall of 2011 as a player tailor-made for Head Coach Tony Shaver’s distinctive offensive system. Rated the no. 47 power forward in his class by ESPN, he combines a developed post game with a silky outside jumper, a combination adept enough to earn him a higher rating than any player in the Tribe’s highly-touted 2010 recruiting class.

“Schalk is a prospect who screams potential,” Ryan James, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said.

A quick recruitment

So how does a top recruit from central Minnesota end up in Tidewater Virginia? A dedicated coaching staff and a historic and high-profile basketball season work wonders.

Last summer, Schalk had never heard of the College while featuring for his AAU team, 43 Hoops. But Assistant Coach Jonathan Holmes, who recruits the Midwest region for the Tribe, had seen the forward play on the summer circuit, and got in touch with Schalk in August.

“The first time he called me I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he told me a little about the school and it sounded like something I’d be interested in,” Shalk said. “I looked it up online, and right away I was pretty interested.”

Holmes, who could not comment on this story due to NCAA rules, built up a relationship with his recruit, touching base over the phone while attending several open gyms at Apple Valley. The College liked what it saw, and Schalk received a phone call from Shaver later that fall. The Head Coach offered a scholarship, selling the forward on the Tribe program.

The next step for Schalk was to visit campus, which he did for two days in mid-November. He immediately felt at home.

“I went to a practice and got to watch the coaches go through film and meet the players,” Schalk said. “All the guys were really nice and I liked the coaches. And especially with the guys they have now and the guys coming in, my first impression was that they could win a lot of games.”

A conversation with junior forward Quinn McDowell further sold him on the College. McDowell sat down with Schalk and his father, giving them a feel for the school and the basketball program. As a result, Schalk left Williamsburg with strong feelings about playing for Shaver.

But other schools were still involved. Wichita State and Northern Iowa, both perennial mid-major powers were expressing interest, while Wofford had offered a scholarship. And then there was Cornell, an Ivy League program that is unable to offer athletic scholarships, but possessed a team that made the Sweet Sixteen in March.

“Cornell was coming in hard pretty late and really went after him,” Apple Valley Head Coach Zach Goring said. “There was quite a bit of interest.”

Then the College started winning. When Schalk arrived in Williamsburg, the squad had just returned from its opening weekend of play, suffering losses to Connecticut and Harvard. The next weekend the Tribe took down tournament-team Richmond, and wouldn’t lose again until January. Road wins against Maryland and Wake Forest embroiled the College in NCAA tournament talk, with Schalk watching eagerly.

“I was following really closely,” he said. “After a win I’d give Coach Holmes a call, then I saw them playing on ESPN a few times. It really helped, because it was just exciting to see them having that success. I don’t know if I would have committed [without it], but it was good to see that success and potential.”

By the time the Tribe had turned a deep CAA tournament run into an NIT berth, Schalk was mostly sold. Six weeks later, he called Shaver.

“I told him I was ready to commit,” Schalk said. “He was really excited and said ‘Welcome to the family.’”

“A nice pickup”

The decision was William and Mary’s gain. It ended Schalk’s recruitment process before the primary showcase period — a summer of high-profile AAU ball, followed by his senior high school season.

“William & Mary picked up a very nice commitment,” James, the recruiting analyst, said. “Some of the top mid-major programs in the nation, as well as a few high majors, liked [Schalk], but were waiting until the summer to take a stronger look at him. While they thought it would take two years before he was ready to play at their level, he had impressed coaches from the Missouri Valley and Mountain West Conferences.”

But, in the end, the junior was comfortable with the College’s coaching staff, and saw no reason to wait for other opportunities.

“I could really see myself playing for [Shaver]. He’s a great personality, really outgoing and easy to talk to,” Schalk said. “I knew it was a great school and I’d get a great education, so it was really the best of both worlds.”

On the court, Schalk seems a strong fit, as well. The forward bolstered his shooting touch considerably following his sophomore year of high school, knocking down seven treys from beyond the slightly shorter high school arc in one game this past winter, an Apple Valley record. That aspect will increase his versatility in a Tribe system in which four of five positions routinely spot up from long range.

“His shooting is what will help him right away,” Goring said. “He can really stretch the floor. If he’s got a smaller guy on him, we post him up. When he’s got a bigger guy on him, we pull him out on to the perimeter.”

Schalk projects as a shooting forward at the collegiate level, despite splitting minutes between shooting and power forward over his high school career. He averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds his junior season, blocking nearly four shots a game while shooting 33.8 percent from three-point range.

“He has very good footwork … and at 6’ 7”, this makes him a very tough player to match up with on the offensive end,” James said. “Many have called him a shorter version of 2010 Minnesota Mr. Basketball Kevin Noreen”

And he expects to get bigger. Schalk said he is still growing a bit, and intends to bulk up to 205 pounds, from his current weight of 195, by the winter.

“The biggest thing right now is just getting bigger and stronger,” he said. “I want to prove my athleticism and get more explosive.”

Goring wants to work with his big man to cut down on foul trouble, a common problem for high school forwards and one that James highlighted, but Schalk’s main goals are team-oriented.

Apple Valley was the top seed in their region last winter, before suffering an early upset in the playoffs. Schalk is determined not to let that happen again.

“Tom’s a very intense player on the floor,” Goring said. “He is the type of player that definitely wants the ball and to take the big shot … a natural leader.”

Schalk summed up his senior-year goals more succinctly.

“Win the championship, that’s the biggest thing,” he said.

It’s a phrase he’ll likely be repeating for the Tribe soon enough.

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