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Warriors Athlete of Week: There’s more to Pecarich’s game than meets the eye

Johnny Pecarich and the Brainerd Warriors boys basketball team have started the season 5-0.

Athlete Johnny Pecarich
Brainerd Warrior Johnny Pecarich looks for the basket Friday Dec. 2, 2022, at the Brainerd High School.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD -- It’s not that Johnny Pecarich is misunderstood, people often don’t see the bigger picture.

The Brainerd Warrior senior boys’ basketball player is a scoring machine. He leads the team with 18.0 points per game as he’s tallied 90 points in the Warriors’ first five games — all wins.

What gets overlooked, however, is the 6-foot-3 guard’s overall game. He’s also second on the team in assists with 15 or 3.0 per game. He’s second on the team in rebounds with 32 or 6.4 per game. He’s second on the team with nine steals or 1.8 per game and he leads the team with five blocks.

“We are smaller so everyone needs to crash the glass for us to be successful,” Pecarich said. “It’s everyone’s job to go and get rebounds and I guess I’ve just been lucky with the bounces, I guess.

“I watch a lot of college games and other high school games and just watch to see what works and what I can add to my notes and figure out how I can work it into my game and bring my game to a higher level as well.”

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Brainerd boys head coach Charlie Schoeck called Pecarich one of the smarter players he’s coached. He said Pecarich sees the game a different way than most others see it and it’s a product of spending so much time in the gym and watching basketball.

He’s really turned himself into a true three-level scorer. I think probably the best natural scorer I’ve coached.
Charlie Schoeck

“Our plan this year is to have some of our bigger body guys block out the other team’s best rebounders and then it takes our guards and smaller forwards to come back from the perimeter and rebound the ball,” Schoeck said. “Johnny has done a great job of that. He’s got that great length and nose for the basketball. He has a sixth sense of knowing where that ball is going to come off of the rim. He’s just instinctually a really good rebounder.

“Then with the assist, I really think that’s maybe one of the most underrated parts of his games is his vision. He’s such a smart basketball player and his basketball IQ is so high that he sees the play unfolding before a lot of other people do in the gym. That allows him to get those assists.”

Pecarich opened the season with a 25-point game against Rogers. He added four rebounds and two assists in the 78-66 victory.

Last week in Brainerd’s 78-53 victory over Fergus Falls, Pecarich scored 19 points to go with seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.

He added a six-assist, three-steal, one-block, nine-rebound and 18-point performance in the Warriors’ 80-53 win over Sauk Rapids Dec. 16.

“Within our offense, it’s really predicated on passing and cutting and passing and screening away and with his willingness to trust his teammates and give up the ball and go set a screen or make a hard cut to free himself up from that pressure has been really valuable,” Schoeck said. “We’re also using him in different areas on the court. We’ll have him bring the ball up the court and so it’s hard for teams to deny him the ball because he’s already got it.”

Last season, the Warriors were the fourth seed in the Section 8-4A playoffs, but knocked off the top-seeded Buffalo in the semifinal round to set up a match with Moorehead for the section final. The Warriors were a basket away from advancing to state.

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This year, Pecarich and fellow senior Nick Evanson and junior Eli Hoelz were the only players returning with significant experience. Pecarich has taken it upon himself to show his younger teammates what it takes to be a postseason success.

“The main thing is just talking to them,” he said. “I have to try hard and work hard to show them what it takes to be a varsity player. I have to show them what it takes to play at a higher level.”

But Pecarich is best known for his scoring ability, but he’s even had to adapt that as more defenses focus on him. As a sophomore, he was a spot-up 3-point shooter. He worked on his ball handling and added the dribble penetration and mid-range jump to his game as a junior. This year, Pecarich has added even more weapons to his scoring arsenal.

“In terms of on the court, every year we’ve seen add something a little bit different to his game,” Schoeck said. “As a sophomore, he was kind of a stand-still shooter and hitting that inside-out 3. Last year, as a junior, you saw him taking the ball off the dribble a little more. This year, he’s added a little bit of a post game, too.

“He’s continued to grow a little bit and he’s all of 6-foot-3, 6-4 and with that great touch, he’s been able to get himself on the block and finish there. He’s really turned himself into a true three-level scorer. I think probably the best natural scorer I’ve coached.”

He’s shooting 38% from the field, 81% from the line and 24% from 3-point.

“Now I’m more of a ball-handler and I have the ability to score at all three levels,” Pecarich said. “I’ve improved my defense a lot from my sophomore year to now and I’m a pretty good rebounder.

“My weakness is probably still on-ball defense. Everyone wants to score all the time, but you have to have the ball to score so I’ve been really pushing my defense the whole time. If you’re scoring and the guy you’re guarding is scoring you’re not really changing the game much.”

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Last season, Pecarich earned Brainerd Dispatch Player of the Year honors as he finished with 533 points (18.4 per game), 120 rebounds (4.1), 69 assists (2.4), 32 steals and 14 blocked shots. He shot 42% from the field, 37.7% from 3-point and 85% from the line.

“Our goal is to make it to state this year and win the Central Lakes Conference again,” Pecarich said. “I’m trying to reach 1,000 points and just get better overall.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.

Johnny Pecarich

Johnny Pecarich
Johnny Pecarich

Sport: Boys’ basketball

Position: Guard

Year: Senior

Age: 18

Height: 6-foot-3

Career highlight: Hitting the game-winner against Alexandria as a junior

Grade-point average: 3.3

Favorite class: Yoga

Favorite food: Chicken wraps

Favorite movie: “Semi-pro”

Favorite TV show: “Family Guy”

Favorite musician: Kid Cudi

Favorite restaurant: Buffalo Wild Wings

Future plans: Attend college and play basketball

Favorite athlete: Damian Lillard

Parents: Matt and Jill Pecarich

Other notable performances

Kale Koop, boys’ hockey, scored the game-winning goal against Little Falls.

Kalvin Stengrim, boys’ hockey, finished with a goal and assisted on the game-winning goal against Little Falls.

Breya Sawyer, girls’ hockey, finished with 15 saves in a 0-0 tie with Bemidji.

Lauren Castle, gymnastics, won the all-around in a dual with Willmar.

Brenna Deason, gymnastics, won the vault with a 9.45 in a dual with Willmar.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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