Ready to move on: Kessel returns to Midgets after conduct violation kept him outJesse Kessel was alone in a dimly lit Dickinson High School gymnasium, working on his basketball game.
By: Royal McGregor, The Dickinson Press
Jesse Kessel was alone in a dimly lit Dickinson High School gymnasium, working on his basketball game.
After practice was cancelled on Monday, Kessel thought it was a good opportunity to get some extra work in. He said the eight weeks of practice he got without playing a game wasn’t enough.
Kessel, who came into the season as the Midgets’ most experienced varsity player, hit a bump in the road the Saturday before the first game of the season. The senior guard was suspended for six weeks due to a violation of team conduct.
The first thing that crossed Kessel’s mind was what were his teammates going to think?
“I thought how bad it would hurt my teammates and my coaches,” Kessel said. “With all the work in the offseason and me being the leader of the team, with all the younger classmen looking up to me — and they still do. I think that was the hardest part, to say ‘I can’t,’ (for) almost the first half of the season.”
Once the season began, Kessel took his place behind the bench and used his experience to help a group of players that saw limited-to-no varsity minutes last season.
“The four years I’ve been in varsity, I’ve seen a lot of people get down,” he said. “I just say, ‘Don’t worry about that last possession, keep shooting and have that confidence.’”
Kessel, who averaged 8.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game as a junior, knew he made a mistake and the best way to make amends for it was to continually motivate his team.
“My teammates, first of all, were unbelievably supportive,” Kessel said. “They said, ‘Don’t worry, you will get your chance.’”
Not only were his teammates there for him, but his family stood by him as well.
“My family has been just so encouraging,” Kessel said. “Everybody makes mistakes in life and you just have to bounce back from it. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Fitting in to the flow
So what does it mean that Kessel is back playing his first varsity game of the regular season? The team’s consensus having Kessel back could be huge — not only because of his scoring ability, but also his defensive pressure.
The Midgets (3-5, 1-5 West Region) are playing their best basketball of season right now and nearly knocked off No. 1-ranked Bismarck High on Jan. 13.
Is Kessel the final piece to the puzzle?
“I feel, right now, he will probably fit in just fine,” Dickinson senior Tyrell Parker said. “I don’t want to say Jesse’s our missing piece, but he’s probably someone that we’ve been missing in the long run.”
Kessel’s mesh with the team should go over smoothly since he’s been playing the same group of guys since they were in grade school.
“We’ve been together ever since we were third-graders,” Dickinson senior Jon Wanner said. “We know how to play with each other. We finally found it and now we can just keep rolling with it.”
But after playing against only his teammates, how long before Kessel crack the starting lineup? Head coach John Wilson said for every player, each practice is an audition.
“Every week we tell the kids, ‘It’s another audition, you are only one situation or matchup from changing that,’” Wilson said.
Shaping his game
This isn’t the first obstacle that has blocked Kessel from playing basketball. In the eighth grade, Kessel endured in a hunting accident that left him without sight in his right eye.
As he drained a 3-pointer, Kessel said it was tough understanding his new depth perception those first couple of seasons. Other teams know he can’t see out of his right eye, but that hasn’t hurt his defensive ability one bit.
“It’s taken a lot of getting used to, but I think I’ve adapted to it.” Kessel said. “… People look at me funny before games and refs say what are you doing with goggles, you have to take them off. I just kind of laugh about it, it’s kind of comical.”'
The influences in Kessel’s life have been anywhere from teammates to family to coaches. He owes credit to his father, Paul, for shaping his basketball IQ since he was a child.
“My dad has always been the best coach I’ve had,” Kessel said. “He’s pushed me ever since I was a first-grader. My brother (former Dickinson starter Tim Kessel) pushed me, but my dad always was there for me. He’s taught me everything I know.”
During the last couple seasons, Joe Hanstad was Kessel’s workout partner in the offseason. Kessel said Hanstad, last year’s Class A senior player of the year and now a freshman guard at Boise State, was great role model.
“He obviously has the skills and just asking him experience with coaches and everything,” Kessel said. “He can give me insight on what he’s learned.”
Kessel’s anticipation of playing his first varsity game of his senior season has finally sunk in and he’s anxious to get back on the court.
“It’s just made me want to work harder,” he said. “I just want to get back and show what I’m really capable of doing. That’s the excitement of it.”
Kessel’s first game back is at home against Belcourt at 7:30 p.m. Friday. He’s relishing the opportunity to play in front of his home crowd.
“Everybody is going to be looking to me to be that vocal leader,” he said. “Just come and try my hardest, get my team involved and hopefully get a win.”