Their coach, Aaron Griess, shares Olson’s opinion. “On and off the floor, Jon is a leader. He has a unique understanding of what it takes to be successful,” said Coach Griess. “From Day One, he has exhibited a work ethic and a willingness to go above and beyond for the program.”
Jon’s teammates recognized his leadership even as an underclassman. They chose him as their captain in his sophomore year, a rare honor for one so young. He has lived up to that honor, working hard to improve not only his game but also the play of those around him. He works with younger players, passing on tips and tricks he has learned and spends countless hours in the gym, honing his shooting skills.
He has been the cornerstone of the rebuilding of the Augsburg College basketball program. When Griess took over five years ago, the Auggies had fallen from their accustomed role as a regular contender for the MIAC title. In Griess’ first year on the recruiting trail in Minnesota, he was able to convince Jon to come to Augsburg and help him restore the program to its past luster.
“Jon has meant more to our program's development than anyone can understand,” stated Griess. “He has certainly developed as a player and as a person over the course of the last four years, but he has been and will continue to be an excellent ambassador for Augsburg College and our basketball program.
“I'm proud of Jon because he has endured the tough times in our evolution and he has done everything that has been asked of him, which has been an extraordinary amount. People outside of our program could not possibly understand his commitment to excellence nor his deep passion and love for the game. He has worked year-round on his game individually and he has strived for ways to help us make the entire program better. That's what we ask of everybody; he has simply embraced the ideas to the highest level.”
Olson is quick to point out how Jon immerses himself in bettering the program. “Ever since he was a freshman here at Augsburg, he has been to every practice, charity event, or other activities involving the team. He greets every new recruit with a warm greeting and makes sure that they are comfortable with their visit, or with the guys.”
Jon has started all 100 games of his career, and is the 17th Augsburg player to score at least 1,000 points in his career. He has scored 1,325 points as an Auggie, the seventh most in school history. He needs 14 points to move into sixth place among Augsburg’s all-time scoring leaders. Jon has dished out 455 assists, the most of anyone in school history since at least the mid-1980s. His 106 steals rank fifth in that same timeframe. He has connected on 147 three-pointers, the fifth-highest total in school history. He is also in the top 10 in Auggie records for career free-throw accuracy.
His freshman year, he set the school record for three-point accuracy, draining 48.2% of his shots from behind the arc. He has three of the top four single-seasons for assists, with 119 his sophomore and junior years and 118 as a freshman.
Jon was born in Illinois and was raised in the Bloomington/Normal area until he was in eighth grade. When he entered high school, his family relocated to Prior Lake, MN, a community of 16,000 just south of the Twin Cities. He has two younger brothers. “Joey is a junior in high school and plays baseball, like our dad did,” said Jon. “Jake is my protégé. He’s in eighth grade, and plays basketball and football.”
After the family’s move to Minnesota, Jon attended Prior Lake High. He played baseball for three seasons, seeing action at shortstop, second base and occasionally on the mound. After spending his freshman year on the JV, Jon was part of the varsity his sophomore and junior years. “I had the chance to play with Minnesota Select, an elite AAU basketball team, following my junior and senior years,” Jon said. “There were a lot of scheduling conflicts with baseball my junior year and as a result I decided not to play baseball my senior year.”
Jon was part of the Lakers’ basketball program for four years. He spent his freshman year on the JV, but moved up to the varsity as a sophomore. That season, he was the team’s sixth man and garnered All-Conference honors. He moved into the starting lineup as a junior, playing shooting guard for two seasons. He received All-Conference accolades both years. Jon was an All-State Honorable Mention selection his senior year and was a nominee for the Mr. Basketball award. He was honored as Academic All-State his senior season.
The Lakers finished near .500 in Jon’s sophomore and junior years, but went 20-8 in his senior season. “We won the conference that year, the first time for Prior Lake in 23 years,” he stated proudly. “We were ranked in the state polls, too, for the first time in 12 years. We had the same core of kids pretty much all four years, so it was kind of special and a lot of fun.”
In each of Jon’s seasons, Prior Lake was eliminated in the first round of Section play.
Away from sports, Jon was his class vice-president his senior year and a member of the student council his junior and senior years. He was a member of the National Honor Society and was part of the Homecoming Court his senior year.
While living in Illinois, Jon played summer basketball in the American Youth Basketball Tour. “AYBT is similar to AAU,” he explained. “We made it to the national tourney when I was in seventh grade and finished second.”
After his family moved to Minnesota, Jon played in the Prior Lake Athletics for Youth program for two summers. Through PLAY, Jon and his teammates played in several AAU tourneys in the area. He also played for the South Siders, a team of kids from the Prior Lake area. “Randy Whitman, the Timberwolves coach, helped coach the team, which was pretty cool,” Jon said.
In his junior year, Jon was invited to play with Minnesota Select, one of the premier elite teams in the state. “The team is made up of guys from all over the state, so it was quite an honor to be asked to play with them,” he said. “We played in some of the bigger national tournaments both years I was with them.”
Through his participation with the Select, Jon received a lot of exposure to college coaches. Iowa offered him a chance to walk on, but Jon did not give that much consideration. Nearly all the Division III schools in the Upper Midwest as well as many of the Division II schools in the area recruited him.
“I looked at Northern State, a Division II school, a couple of the schools in the WIAC and Wheaton College, which is close to my grandparents,” he said. “But my decision ultimately came down to Augsburg, Gustavus and Saint John’s. It was a very difficult decision, but the opportunity to play right away and the chance to help rebuild Augsburg were big factors. I liked that it was closer to home and had a good comfort level at Augsburg and with Coach Griess. He had a program of goals mapped out for me and the program, which showed me the timeline and expectations he had. I wanted to be able to look back after I graduate and say ‘I helped build that’.”
His sophomore year, Jon and the Auggies improved to 10-10 in conference play and 12-13 overall. They narrowly missed the MIAC Playoffs, losing 74-72 in the final game of the season to Bethel, a game Jon played in despite being ill. He lit up the scoreboard, scoring 29 points. The coaches honored him as an All-MIAC First Team selection, as he finished in the top 15 in the conference in scoring, assists, free throw percentage, assists-to-turnover ratio and three-point accuracy.
Last year, Jon helped lead the Auggies to their first MIAC Playoff berth since 2000-01 and they notched the school’s first post-season victory since 1998-99. They closed the season 12-8 in conference play, tied for third. Seeded third, they downed Carleton 65-64 in quarterfinals before losing to Bethel, 70-59 in the MIAC Playoff semifinals to end the year 15-12. Jon was named to the All-MIAC First Team. He led the conference in assists (65, or 4.06 per game) and was among the league leaders in scoring, free throw accuracy and assists-to-turnover ratio.
This year, the Auggies have clinched a berth in the MIAC Playoffs. They stand 11-7 and are tied for third place with two games to play. Overall, they are 16-7 and are a viable candidate for a berth in the NCAA Division III tourney. Jon ranks among the MIAC leaders in scoring, assists, free throw accuracy, three-point accuracy, and assists-to-turnovers ratio. He is a lock to be named to the All-MIAC First Team and is a viable candidate for the conference’s Player of the Year award, which will be announced after the Playoffs.
Jon has been in the top six in the MAIC in minutes played in each of his four seasons.
He was named Academic All-MIAC following his sophomore and junior seasons. He was further honored as a member of ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-District 5 second team after his sophomore year.
One of the highlights of his tenure at Augsburg was a five-day trip to Puerto Rico this December. “The trip was a great team bonding experience,” he said. “The free time spent together off the court was the most exciting. On the days we didn't play a game, the team would have either a practice at a local gym or have a strenuous beach workout run by the coaches. The rest of our time was spent either on the beach or seeing a different part of Puerto Rico. The highlights would be winning the exhibition and actual game down there, spending free time and activities with the team, and going to see old San Juan and the historic part of Puerto Rico.”
Off the court, Jon has been involved in the Augsburg Student Athletic Advisory Committee. The group looks out for the well-being of student-athletes on campus, promotes support of Auggie athletics and encourages attendance at home games and events. They also participate in a Toys For Teens drive at the holidays with the other SAACs in the MIAC.
Jon is an Accounting and Finance double major, sporting a 3.60 GPA. He will graduate this spring and return to Augsburg to take two courses during the summer. “I need to do that to meet the 150-class-hour requirement to take the CPA exam,” he explained. “I plan to take the exam sometime in the next year or so.”
He is exploring career options in accounting and finance in the Upper Midwest. He is looking at opportunities in public accounting, tax or audit work and other aspects of finance and accounting.
When he considered enrolling at Augsburg, a factor in his decision was the hope to be able to look back at his four years with satisfaction and knowing that he played a role in restoring Auggie basketball to its past luster. In his four years, the Auggies showed improvement each season, and Jon can take pride in knowing his prints are all over that success and the program is on track to continue into the future.
“We will miss him when he graduates, but his example has definitely been passed along to everyone in our program,” stated an appreciative Coach Griess. “Jon has helped set the standard for Augsburg basketball, and we expect his contributions to continue well into the future.”
[Photos are courtesy of the Augsburg College Sports Information Office, the action shot was taken by Don Stoner.]
The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.
This feature will be included in the "Profiles of Excellence 2009-2010" book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s "Mapping the MIAC" columnist Rich Mies.