Aurora Christian grad Wolfe helps Lipscomb reach NIT title game
Jake Wolfe enjoyed an illustrious high school basketball career at Aurora Christian.
During his 4-year varsity stint, the Eagles reached the regional championship game all 4 seasons, winning a Class 2A regional title during Wolfe's sophomore campaign before capturing back-to-back 1A regional crowns during his final 2 years in 2017 and 2018.
Aurora Christian, which earned its first sectional title in 5 years with a 59-58 victory over Reed-Custer in 2016, posted an impressive 91-25 record during Wolfe's prep run.
As a senior, the 6-foot-4 guard achieved all-state status while averaging 20-plus points per contest for coach Dan Beebe's Eagles.
This past season, Wolfe literally went from being the big fish in a small pond to feeling like a small fish in a big pond during his freshman campaign at Lipscomb University, a Division I school in Nashville.
Earlier this month, Wolfe and his teammates got a taste of the "Big Apple" as Lipscomb advanced to the NIT semifinals -- and ultimately the championship game against Texas.
"I can't even imagine what was going through his mind," Beebe said of Wolfe's journey from 1A basketball at cozy Aurora Christian to midtown Manhattan at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City.
"It was crazy walking into the arena accompanied by security guards," said Wolfe. "It felt so surreal sitting in the locker room. Until you're there, you don't realize how massive the place is."
Lipscomb advanced to the NIT finals with a 71-64 semifinal victory over Wichita State on April 2 before suffering an 81-66 loss to Texas in the title game held April 4.
"My parents and two sisters were there to watch our first game (in New York)," said Wolfe. "It was a great experience."
Against Texas, Wolfe scored 3 points and added a rebound with an assist in 9 minutes of playing time.
"The postseason run was so fun," said Wolfe.
Lipscomb, which earned its first NCAA tournament berth in 2018, reached Madison Square Garden the hard way, winning 3 consecutive road games against Davidson (89-81), UNC-Greensboro (86-69) and North Carolina State (94-93).
"We were given the option of having a higher seed and playing our first game at home or playing on the road," said Wolfe. "We chose playing the road games since we were on our spring break (when the tournament began). We figured we would experience something new."
Lipscomb came within a game of reaching the NCAA tournament for the second straight season before dropping a 74-68 decision to Liberty in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship last month.
"We were all disappointed but we tried to make the best of it (in the NIT)," said Wolfe.
One postseason game in particular stood out for Wolfe, who grabbed 2 rebounds with a pair of assists in the 1-point win at N.C. State.
"I'll always remember that game and how loud it was at their place," he said.
Wolfe's collegiate career got off to a solid start, as he connected on a 3-pointer for his first points during a 14-minute stint against Sewanee on Nov. 6.
After that, Wolfe played a total of 3 minutes over his next 4 games.
"It was tough at first," said Wolfe. "I had to work my way into the mix and learn how the coach wants you to play."
That's not an easy adjustment for someone put in that situation for the first time.
"It was a lot different from what I was accustomed to," said Wolfe. "I've never come off the bench in my life. I just tried to do whatever Coach (Casey Alexander) asked me."
"We tried to prepare him for that," said Beebe.
Midway through the season, Wolfe began seeing additional playing time.
The freshman guard scored a season-high 16 points in 28 minutes against Stetson in late January and played a minimum of 12 minutes over his next 6 games leading into mid-February.
"I got to be known as a defensive stopper," said Wolfe. "With my size, length and quickness, I take pride in my defense. It was hard at first but we watched a lot of film as a team and I began to learn tendencies of opposing players."
Beebe was impressed with Wolfe's increased minutes as the season moved along.
"Just to get on the floor with the team they had coming back is wonderful," said the coach. "I think it exceeded his and everybody's expectations. He was averaging 15 minutes of playing time the second half of the season.
"With two minutes left in the conference finals, he went in for defense. That told me what his coaches thought of him. Kudos to Jake for taking on that role. He went from averaging 21 points per game as a senior to averaging 3 points per game in college this season but he was able to make the adjustment."
Wolfe, who praised the leadership provided by seniors Garrison Mathews, Rob Marberry, Nathan Moran, Matt Rice and Eli Pepper, now awaits his next chapter at Lipscomb.
"I'm not sure what I'll do this summer," said Wolfe. "Before our coach left (Alexander took the head coaching position at nearby Belmont last week), the plan was to go home for a month then come back for June workouts, go back home in July and come back (to Lipscomb) for school in August."
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org