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Big commitment: Iron Mountain star basketball player Foster Wonders signs with NCAA Division I Southern Illinois before starting his senior year

Iron Mountain’s Foster Wonders, center, goes up for a layup over Negaunee’s Alex Munson, left, as the Miners’ Jason Waterman trails in a high school basketball game played at the Mountaineers’ gym on March 5. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Ron Deuter)

“(Southern Illinois) had too much to offer to me to pass up the opportunity.” — Foster Wonders, senior-to-be basketball player, Iron Mountain High School

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IRON MOUNTAIN — High school student athletes with elite NCAA talent are few and far between in the Upper Peninsula. For whatever reason, basketball players from the U.P. aren’t heavily recruited by Division I programs.

Iron Mountain’s Foster Wonders is an exception, and the soon-to-be senior made his much-anticipated college commitment announcement Monday afternoon, choosing Southern Illinois in Carbondale, Illinois. SIU competes in the Missouri Valley Conference.

“I chose Southern Illinois because they play in such a strong basketball conference,” Wonders said Monday. “They have a spot for me right away, and the head coach has expressed a great deal of interest.”

Iron Mountain's Foster Wonders, left, dribbles past Calumet's Travis Ojala in the first quarter of their Class C regional championship game held at Marquette Senior High School on March 14, 2018. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

The Mountaineers’ senior has been named U.P. Mr. Basketball by the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association for the last two seasons. Wonders chose from among 13 schools, each offering full-ride scholarship offers.

They were Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Oakland, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Toledo, Miami (Ohio), Rice, North Carolina-Wilmington, Wright State and South Dakota State.

Nearby Division II Northern Michigan University, where his older brother Carson currently plays basketball and his parents Matt and Julie (Heldt) Wonders both played college basketball, offered Carson a scholarship when he was in eighth grade.

Brian Mullens, head coach of SIU, was the Salukis’ point guard on the school’s 2007 team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Mullens was associate head coach for fellow Missouri Valley team Loyola-Chicago when it advanced to the NCAA Final Four in 2018.

“I wanted to do what was best for me and SIU had too much to offer to me to pass up the opportunity,” Wonders said. “I am excited to play for Coach Mullens, and he’s excited to have my commitment.”

Negaunee's Jakson Sager, below, waits for an opening to take a shot as Iron Mountain's Foster Wonders, top left, and Charlie Gerhard throw up a wall in the first quarter at Lakeview Memorial Gym in Negaunee on Jan. 29, 2018. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

Wonders’ first Division I offer was from CMU after attending their basketball camp in Mount Pleasant following his freshman year. The last boys player from the area to receive a full Division I scholarship was current Western Michigan player Jason Whitens, who graduated in 2017 and played on three straight state championship teams at North Central.

Another former Iron Mountain-area basketball players to receive and accept full Division I offers include Forest Park star Lexi Gussert, who played at Michigan State on a full scholarship from 2014-18.

And North Dickinson grad and U.P. Sports Hall of Famer Todd Lindeman received a full scholarship from Indiana University and played for the legendary Bob Knight from 1991-96.

Also on Wonders’ recruiting trail was UNC-Wilmington, which has a new coaching staff that had prioritized Wonders.

“Talks with them were very good and their interest in me was high, but I never got the opportunity to visit there,” Wonders said.

Davidson — the alma mater of Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry — Furman, Wofford, Bowling Green State and Colorado State were other schools with high interest in Wonders.

The MVC Tournament championship, which is nationally televised on CBS each year, sounds exciting to any young person with aspirations to play college athletics. Wonders is no different.

“It’s very exciting to think about, definitely,” Wonders said of the possible opportunity to play on CBS in front of the country.

Other members of the MVC are Northern Iowa, Valparasio, Bradley, Missouri State, Drake, Loyola-Chicago, Indiana State, Evansville and Illinois State.

Wonders has played in 68 varsity basketball games for the Mountaineers, scoring 1,618 points, an average of 23.8 points per game, with Iron Mountain holding a record of 64-4 in that span.

He’s second on IM’s all-time scoring list and is 560 points behind the U.P.’s all-

time leading scorer, Gage Kreski of St. Ignace, who had 2,178 points from 2013-16 in 90 games.

As a freshman in the 2017-18 season, Wonders was named to the All-U.P. Dream Team and Mid-Peninsula Conference First Team.

As a sophomore, he was named all-state by the Associated Press, unanimously named to the All-U.P. Dream Team, was co-Player of the Year in the M-PC and Player of the Year in the West PAC.

Last season, he scored 603 points (27.4 ppg), with 171 rebounds (7.8 average per game), 52 assists (2.4 average) and 42 blocked shots (1.9 average). He was named both M-PC and West PAC Player of the Year, along with unanimous All-U.P. Dream Team for a second consecutive season.

Wonders was also named to the AP All-State First Team in 2019-20. The Detroit Free Press has Wonders on a list of Players To Watch for next year’s Basketball Coaches of Michigan/Detroit Free Press Mr. Basketball award. No U.P boys player has ever won the state Mr. Basketball.

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