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Wildcat men’s hoops bringing in 3 heralded transfer players

Justin Brookens, left, is shown in a game vs. Denver. (Photo courtesy of Visual Production Center/Western Illinois University)
John Kerr while playing with St. Ambrose in January in a game against Trinity Christian. (Courtesy Quad City Times)
Nick Wagner of Bemidji State plays in a game against Southwest Minnesota State during the 2019-20 season. (Photo courtesy Bemidji, Minn., Pioneer)

By Journal Sports Staff

MARQUETTE — Head coach Matt Majkrzak of the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team says he’s excited about the three new players he’s adding to his roster for the upcoming season who are transfers from well established programs.

They are Justin Brookens, who played last year at NCAA Division I Western Illinois; John Kerr, who was an All-American at NAIA member St. Ambrose of Davenport, Iowa; and Nick Wagner, who earned all-conference mention at Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference member Bemidji State in Minnesota.

“It’s not every day you get to add multiple All-America and all-conference players to your program,” Majkrzak said in a sports news release announcing the signings. “This group has talent and a proven track record of producing at the four-year level and are also perfect fits at NMU.

“These are three kids that live in the gym, which is even more important. Justin and Nick are two of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around, and John has a desire to improve and work on his game that makes others take notice.

“These student-athletes are also poised to succeed in the classroom and are great people to be around that will make a positive impact in the Marquette community.”

Here is a rundown on the trio:

Justin Brookens, 5-foot-9 guard from Milwaukee — In his one year at Western Illinois, the 2020-21 season, he started seven games while appearing in all 22, averaging 6.9 points per game with a high of 37 vs. Eastern Illinois on Dec. 12.

He scored in double figures a half-dozen times and was second on the team in assists.

In his previous season at Iowa Lakes Community College, he was named a Division II All-American by the National Junior College Athletic Association while also being named co-Player of the Year in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference. There he averaged 20.1 ppg and made 48.8 percent from the field, including 51.7 percent on 3-pointers. The latter figure was second in the nation.

In the 2018-19 season at Bryant & Stratton College, when he played for Majkrzak, he averaged 21.7 ppg, 4.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds while helping the team compile a 25-8 record.

“I loved previously coaching Justin at Bryant & Stratton,” Majkrzak said. “He made the coaching staff’s job a lot easier, not only by scoring but also by the competitive spirit he brought to the floor every day.

“Scoring 37 points in an NCAA Division I game is no easy feat, and I think he has the ability to be that kind of game-changer night in and night out. He’s the hardest worker I have coached and his passion and love for the game of basketball is contagious.”

John Kerr, 6-8 forward from Lake Villa, Illinois — Kerr is a graduate transfer from St. Ambrose after last season being named to the NAIA All-America Third Team, along with First Team in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Last season, he averaged 19.6 ppg and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 56.1% from the field, 43.4% on 3s and 82.5% on free throws.

Kerr totaled 10 double-doubles as St. Ambrose had a 15-6 record.

He finished his career at St. Ambrose scoring 1,706 points and pulling down 951 rebounds as he was a four-time all-conference selection and earned CCAC Freshman of the Year in 2017-18.

“John had a tremendous career at St. Ambrose and we were very lucky that he decided to spend his extra year at NMU,” Majkrzak said. “He is the only transfer in this group that I have not coached before, but my assistant, Charlie (Wallrapp), has coached against him and made it clear this was a student-athlete we wanted.

“It became ever more apparent as we got to know him that he will not only add a huge boost to our scoring and rebounding, but that he also has a competitive desire and work ethic that is clear from his accolades as an All-America honoree.”

Nick Wagner, 6-4 guard from Galesville, Wisconsin — Another graduate transfer, this time from NCAA Division II member Bemidji State, he was named NSIC all-conference honorable mention in the 2019-20 season, averaging 14.7 ppg and three 3s per game while shooting 41% from long range. He ranked second in the league in 3-point percentage, third in 3s made per game and fourth in total 3s.

Last year, he still averaged 13.8 ppg while shooting 42.8% from the field, including 35.6% on 3s. He added 2.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists as he made 2.3 triples per game. He scored a career-high 32 points vs. Minnesota-Duluth on Feb. 12 and made a career-high eight 3s vs. St. Cloud State on Feb. 6.

“Nick has been one of the best shooters in D-2 basketball over the course of the last two years,” Majkrzak said. “I coached him when he was in sixth grade, so have known him and his family for a long time.

“His competitiveness and desire to be great have set him apart. As much as everyone touts Nick’s 3-point shooting ability, he’s is also a sneaky good athlete who can score from all three levels.”

The Wildcats are likely to start their season at the usual November time as several other GLIAC schools have announced schedules beginning then.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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