Justin Wiersema is the guy who catches every coach’s attention. It’s not simply because he’s good – it’s also because his motor never stops and his energy level never slips. Wiersema leads the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team in scoring, but he also leads it in number of yeah baby’s, let’s go’s and prolonged screams of competitive joy while on the court. Okay, Sam Scarpelli might have him beat for most bicep flexes.
Wiersema’s story is the classic one about a student-athlete who came to Concordia not necessarily expecting to become a star, but became one anyway through day-to-day focused energy and development over time.
“As a freshman I wasn’t really sure where I was going to be in the lineup,” Wiersema said. “We had a lot of good players, but I knew I could be up there with them and at least try my best. I came to practice ready to go. It definitely paid off. That’s what you have to do when you come in as a freshman – play as hard as you can no matter what in practice or games.”
No one embodies the mantra of the 2020-21 Bulldogs, “Win The Day,” better than Wiersema, who brings maximum effort at both ends of the floor. He has the type of confidence to want the ball when the game is on the line. He is also just as likely to be the one going all out for a loose ball. The hustle and tenacious competitiveness are certainly appreciated by Head Coach Ben Limback and his staff.
When a star player like Wiersema sells out for his teammates, it sets a tone inside the locker room. It’s rare to have a player so consistent and as reliable as Wiersema. He entered the week having scored in double figures in 22 straight games. His field goal percentage of 57.8 is especially eye-popping for a guard. He’s the only player in the GPAC who currently ranks in the top five of the league in scoring, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and steals per game. Translation: he’s one of the best players in the entire conference.
“When we go to practice today I don’t have to worry about him in terms of his effort or his attitude,” Limback said. “That’s truly why he’s so consistent. I’ve never coached a guard that has been this consistent each game as a junior, let alone a senior. He constantly produces in games because he does it in practice every day. He’ll find ways to score even if he’s not making shots from the perimeter. He’ll always do something to impact the game and we know he’ll guard as hard as he can.”
As a native of Loveland, Colo., Wiersema prepped at Thompson Valley High School and played for the Colorado Titans club basketball program. He was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., and moved with his family to Colorado at a young age. He has always taking a liking to sports. Wiersema played baseball, basketball, football and soccer and says he realized basketball was his “calling” while in high school.
Wiersema’s game began to develop on the playgrounds of his hometown. He credits his close friends with pushing him to get better and to pursue the sport of basketball beyond high school. One of Wiersema’s friends had preceded him at Concordia and Titans club coach Rick Jimenez encouraged him to look at the Bulldogs as a possible college destination.
Said Wiersema, “My mom told me, ‘Why don’t you go look at the campus and check it out?’ I was like, ‘all right, let’s do it.’ I came down and I loved it and decided to come. This was my only college visit in high school. I liked it and wanted to give it a try.”
Wiersema liked how Limback and his staff made him feel wanted at Concordia. An insight into the recruiting process for Wiersema provides some insight into what makes him tick. Wiersema took mental note of the schools that showed a lack of interest – and he uses that as motivation when needed. He’s always looking for something to give him that edge or that chip on his shoulder.
“What stood out then still stands out now,” says Limback of the recruitment of Wiersema. “He’s a tremendously gifted athlete with an extreme motor. As you get to know Justin you can tell there’s more to him than basketball. He loves his family and he’s strong in his faith. Even in road games when a lot of his family is back in Colorado, he has aunts and uncles that show up to games. He has a great Christian character that certainly fits at Concordia.”
Wiersema’s rise has been precipitous. He has gone from a scoring averages of 5.4 points as a freshman to 10.8 as a sophomore and to 17.3 right now as a junior. With the help of Limback and his staff, Todd Berner and the strength and conditioning staff and his own intrinsic motivation, Wiersema quickly grew out of being a scrawny freshman.
He’s strong but powerful. He can shoot from long range and he can blow by defenders and throw down dunks with authority. He’ll then let people know about it because he can’t play the game if he can’t play it with passion. It’s what got him here.
“I definitely knew that the school part of college was going to be tougher,” Wiersema said. “It was, but that was easier to adapt to than college basketball. Going from high school to college basketball is a huge jump. I wasn’t expecting the all weight room stuff, the long practices and just the grind of it. I gained about 20 pounds my first two months here. It was all muscle. Developing as a player and person that first semester was really important to me. That’s when I knew I wanted to stick with it and see how far I could take it.”
In the program’s upward movement the past couple of seasons, the spotlight has often shown upon the likes of Carter Kent, Tanner Shuck and Brevin Sloup. Somewhere in the background, Wiersema kept working – a true Bulldog. The tenacity and drive of Wiersema factored into Concordia leaping from 1-9 in the GPAC at one point in 2018-19 all the way to a GPAC tournament title in March 2020.
Wiersema and a junior class that includes starters Carter Kent and Gage Smith represent the backbone of another team with national tournament hopes. “I think it’s pretty special,” Wiersema said. “We came in not knowing what was going to happen. We had some players leave when we came in as freshmen, but we all wanted to make our mark. We’ve been together about two-and-a-half years now. It’s really special the bonds we’ve made. We all trust each other to make the right play.”
Making the right play and winning the day is simplified when Wiersema is on your side. Number 10 is a winning player and a winning teammate. Says Limback, “Our theme this year totally embodies how he lives his life and what he wants to accomplish on the basketball court.”