Boys Basketball: Pecarich gets back-to-back All-Area Player of the Year
Brainerd senior Johnny Pecarich is named the Brainerd Dispatch All-Area Player of the Year for the 2022-23 season.
BRAINERD — Johnny Pecarich put his stamp on his senior season.
He improved in almost every statistical category from his junior season, but it goes beyond his stats.
“It’s crazy to watch his transformation,” Warriors head coach Charlie Schoeck said. “I have team photos in my office and you look at him from his sophomore year when he was coming off the bench to now, you see the skill development. He went from a stand still shooter into a 3-level scorer. But also what stands out is the work that went into his frame. He’s grown some, been in the weight room and put on some strength. You put those two things together and you see the fruits of this labor in the last couple years and he turned himself into one of the premier players in the state.”
Pecarich is the Brainerd Dispatch All-Area Player of the Year for a second year in a row. He finished with 672 points (24.0 per game), 171 rebounds (6.1 per game), 99 assists (3.5 per game), 38 steals and 24 blocked shots. He shot 46.1% (244-529) from the field, 36.9% (90-244) from 3-point and 86.2% (94-109) from the free throw line.
He led the area in scoring, free throw percentage and 3-pointers made.
“My main goal coming into the year was probably improving my off-the-dribble offensive game and my defense. of course,” Pecarich said. “I felt like I did pretty well. I didn’t take as many 3-pointers as I did last year. This year I didn’t really want to settle for 3s and do a better job at attacking and getting downhill.”
Pecarich started the season with 25 points against Rogers. After three straight games of not scoring 20 points, he rattled off eight games in a row with 20 or more including a 34-point performance against Eden Prairie on Jan. 10.
“I just had a lot of confidence,” Pecarich said. “I would get face guarded a few times which would help my confidence and just start scoring more. I would try to talk myself up to give me that confidence, but also seeing the ball going into the hoops gives you a lot of confidence.”
He reached 1,000 points in his career on Feb. 3 when he scored 28 points against St. Cloud Apollo, becoming the 13th player in school history to eclipse 1,000 points.
After he reached the milestone, Pecarich finished the season on a tear scoring 20 or more in all but one of his final 12 games.
“After I got 1,000 points, there was a lot of pressure off my chest,” Pecarich said. “I could just play free again and that’s what happened.”
Schoeck added he noticed a weight off Pecarich’s shoulders after getting the scoring milestone.
“I think it’s natural,” Schoeck said. “When you’ve had a goal in mind for so long as you grow up playing basketball and see these guys score 1,000 points it’s natural to set goals like that for yourself. Whether you put the pressure on yourself or not it’s always going to be there when you strive for a goal, but you saw after that Apollo game when he got it, he was playing a lot more free that next stretch of the season.”
He scored his career high of 39 points against Buffalo on Feb. 18. The Warriors beat Buffalo 73-59 on the road, a team which at the time was ranked No. 4 in Class 4A. Buffalo also went on to represent Section 8-4A in the state tournament.
Pecarich splashed eight 3-pointers, a season high, against Buffalo and also went 9-for-9 at the free throw line.
“That was one of the best games I’ve played,” Pecarich said. “Going into the game, I knew we were just as good if not better than them, so my confidence was through the roof.”
He scored 33 points two games later on Feb. 21 when the Warriors knocked off Sartell 77-66. Pecarich ended his high school career with 30 points in the Warriors 77-70 loss to Moorhead in the Section 8-4A Semifinals on March 15.
“The fun part about coaching a kid like him is that as coaches we all get in the game for a couple of reasons,” Schoeck said. “You want to build relationships, but at the core we all love the game so much. So when you get a kid like Johnny, who shares that love for the game and wants to be in the gym as much as the coaches, that's a special treat to be able to coach someone like that.”
Through all the ups and downs, Pecarich said he had a blast playing basketball in a Brainerd uniform.
“It was the best experience I’ve ever had if I’m being honest,” Pecarich said. “The coaches were always there for me and always great and my teammates are family at this point.”
Pecarich recorded a 3-point make in all but one contest. He made three or more 3-pointers in 17 games and at least five 3-pointers in nine games.
It’s not just the scoring for Pecarich. He was second on the team in rebounds at 6.1 a game. He grabbed his season-high of 12 rebounds in a 80-73 loss to Minnetonka on Jan. 14.
As a passer Pecarich dished out the second most assists for the Warriors with 99. He recorded his season-high of 12 assists on Feb. 3 against Apollo the same night he scored with 1,000th point.
Pecarich led the team in blocked shots with 24 and was second on the team in steals with 38 as well.
“He’s always had the basketball IQ to be a good defender,” Schoeck said. “As he added length and strength it turned him into an elite defender. It may be underrated, but we saw it as coaches that he’s always been good at getting his hands in the passing lanes and playing that free safety on the backside and even playing post players sometimes.”
One of the players Pecarich looked up to was Michael Russell, who graduated from Brainerd in 2017. Russell was Dispatch All-Area Player of Year during the 2016-17 season.
“When I was growing up I always looked up to Michael Russell because I felt like I kind of played like him,” Pecarich said. “He was a guard who could score and that was like my first person who I really tried to model my game after.”
Pecarich was quick to mention his teammates including fellow senior captain Nick Evanson. Both Pecarich and Evanson played varsity as sophomores and grew up playing together. Evanson was the second leading scorer on the team for the Warriors at 16.1 points and shot 59.6% from the field.
“I’ve always played with Nick since like second grade or whatever,” Pecarich said. “He takes some pressure off because he can score whenever he wants to. He also guards the best player on the other team which tires their best player out. He was awesome to play with.”
Schoeck added: “I remember watching these guys when they were in sixth grade together, so it’s been a lot of fun to watch the forming of the relationship between those two guys.”
Pecarich was also selected to the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Series which is played Saturday, April 1, at Anoka-Ramsey Community College.
“It means a lot that other people recognize that you did a good job during your season year,” he said. “I’m excited and hopefully it’s fun.”
Pecarich announced his commitment to continue his basketball career at Bemidji State University on his social media pages on March 8.
“It’s always been a dream to play in the NSIC Conference,” Pecarich said. “I’m just excited to play the best competition in the area. Basketball was always my first true love. I grew up playing in the gym all the time and watching basketball with my family.”
Season Stats: Finished with 672 points (24.0 per game), 171 rebounds (6.1 per game), 99 assists (3.5 per game), 38 steals and 24 blocked shots. He shot 46.1% (244-529) from the field, 36.9% (90-244) from 3-point and 86.2% (94-109) from the free throw line.
Past All-Area Player of the Years
2022-23: Johnny Pecarich, Brainerd
2021-22: Johnny Pecarich, Brainerd
2020-21: Griffin Rushin, Brainerd
2019-20: Peter Schommer, Pierz
2018-19: Joey Sauer, Brainerd
2017-18: *No player selected*
2016-17: Michael Russell, Brainerd; Noah Gindorff, C-I
2015-16: Kobe Ahonen, Brainerd
2014-15: *No player selected*
2013-14: Nathan Ehnstrom, Ait
2012-13: Jack Sauer, Brainerd
2011-12: Caleb Janson, Pierz
2010-11: Kurtis Moody, PL
2009-10: Dan Kornbaum, LF; Mark Hoge, C-I
2008-09: Dan Kornbaum LF
2007-08: Bryce Tesdahl, C-I
2006-07: Bryce Tesdahl, C-I
2005-06: Tucker Sheley, PL
2004-05: Brett Dickie, C-I
2003-04: Ben Stoll, Pillager
CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.