Warriors Athlete of Week: Warriors’ Degen a versatile gem
Mitch Degen displayed his defensive and offensive prowess in the Warriors' big win over Elk River.
Mitch Degen broke away from watching video of the Brainerd Warriors boys’ basketball team’s next opponent to learn he was this week’s Athlete of the Week.
The senior post player was so invested with his studies it took him a while to acknowledge the honor, but he humbly did. And the honor is well deserved.
Degen played a key role in Brainerd’s 77-64 victory over Elk River Tuesday, March 8, in the Section 8-4A Quarterfinal game.
The second-year starter finished with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 shooting from the line. He added six rebounds and two assists, but more importantly, helped contain the Elk’s Caleb Gilquist, who finished with 12 points.
“His play against Elk River was really big,” Warriors head coach Charlie Schoeck said. “There’s always some butterflies before postseason games and this year to have senior leadership and captains that have been there before definitely helped.
“Mitchell had a really key role in that game Tuesday, guarding one of their best guys in Gilquist. He’s a guy who Mitchell actually played AAU with so he knew all the secrets that Caleb had and was able to defend him really well. That was really a big spark for us -- him defensively. Then on offense, too, especially in the last couple of weeks, he’s really shown the ability to knock down the open shot from the perimeter. That’s something that he’s had. We just didn’t ask that of him early on, but he’s really displayed that part of his game the past few weeks.”
Degen called the Elk River win a confidence boost, especially playing well throughout the contest. He said that fact gave Brainerd confidence they could knock off the No. 1 seeded Buffalo Bison.
That’s what they did Saturday, March 12 by the score of 64-57.
“Our coaches watch a ton of film and prepare us every game,” Degen said. “They’re a big reason why we’re so prepared every game. They noticed that (Gilquist) didn’t really like going to his left so I tried to focus on forcing him that way. I knew I didn’t want him to get down inside because he’s a very strong player.”
Degen is averaging 12.6 points per game on 52% shooting from the field. He’s hitting 66% of his free throws and is 13-of-46 from 3-point. The 6-foot-5 force is averaging 5.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game.
“One reason that he’s really successful is his versatility and basketball IQ,” Schoeck said.” Our offense asks the big guys to play out on the perimeter. This year we really don’t have any traditional, or true, big guys. Mitchell’s versatility allows him, in our five-out offense, to look for post-ups off of his cuts and utilize some of his back-to-the-basket skills.
“Conversely, if he has a larger, slower player on him, it allows him to take him off the dribble from the perimeter or free himself up for shots. His IQ and his ability to read how teams are playing against him and his versatility are why he’s so good in our offense.”
Degen is also showing grit. He hurt his knee during Brainerd’s Jan. 13 victory over Sartell. He hasn’t missed a game.
He’s a tremendous leader for this team. Not just for the guys who are on the court right now, but the players coming up through the program.
“He’s a warrior,” Schoeck said. “He’s doing what he needs to rest-wise and any kind of physical therapy or stretching he needs to do to keep himself ready. It’s rounding back into form and I think it feels pretty good, but those first couple of games after the injury I really didn’t expect him to play right away. There he was a couple of days later suited up for practices and the games ready to go. It’s going to take a lot to keep a guy like that off the court.”
Last season, Degen averaged 13.8 points on 51% shooting. He averaged 5.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Degen’s ability to see the court and work well with fellow post players like Cam Engholm makes him a threat when he’s not shooting.
“It’s a good thing because if other guys see us playing well together then they’ll know it’s easier to do,” Degen said. “We’ve been playing together ever since we were little so you just have to have that connection. We know how each other plays and we know where each other is going to be at certain times.”
Last year, Brainerd rattled off 17 straight wins and earned the No. 1 seed for the Section 8-4A playoffs. The postseason wasn’t what the team hoped for, but Degen wanted to build off last year’s success.
“I wasn’t expecting to have the year I did last year, but it felt good to have that role and over the summer, I just wanted to continue the growth that I had the summer before,” he said. “I just put even more time.”
Schoeck said Degen’s biggest improvement has been on the defensive end. He brought up his versatility again but explained Degen has the ability to defend against perimeter players or big guys down in the paint.
He also praised his leadership.
“He’s a tremendous leader for this team,” Schoeck said. “Not just for the guys who are on the court right now, but the players coming up through the program. I know there are a number of younger players who really look up to Mitch and look forward to coming to watch him play. It’s fun to see Mitchell going over and acknowledging those guys because that means so much to the guys coming up behind him.”
Other notable performances
Johnny Pecarich, boys basketball, finished with 20 points, six rebounds and three assists against Buffalo and 19 points and three steals against Elk River.
Cam Engholm, boys basketball, finished with 14 points and seven rebounds against Buffalo and 17 points and eight rebounds against Elk River.
Nick Evanson, boys basketball, finished with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists against Buffalo and eight points, six rebounds and five assists against Elk River.
Eli Hoelz, boys basketball, finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists against Buffalo and seven points, four assists and three rebounds against Elk River
Sport: Boys basketball
Career highlight: Scoring 27 points against Sartell Feb. 23 to secure at least a share of the Central Lakes Conference title
Other sports: Football and track and field
Grade-point average: 3.96
Favorite class: Math
Favorite food: Tri-tip steak
Favorite movie: “Coach Carter”
Favorite TV show: “Outer Banks”
Favorite website or app: Snapchat
Favorite restaurant: PF Chang’s
Future plans: Play basketball at St. John’s University
Favorite athlete: Karl-Anthony Towns
Parents: Mike and Julie Degen
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.