Coaches in the Northwest Athletic Conference can never be fully certain where their players are going to come from. Sure, most of the players in the community college league are recruited, but sometimes they just show up.
“Players fall into your lap all the time, and most of the time they’re not very good,” Everett Community College men’s basketball coach Mike Trautman said.
But if a coach is lucky, there will be that one instance when a player arrives out of the blue from somewhere completely unexpected and proves to be a difference-maker.
Magnus Jespersen is that player for Trautman and the Trojans.
Jespersen’s unusual journey saw him land in Everett all the way from Denmark and his presesnce has been a boon for a Trojans team that heads into the NWAC Men’s Basketball Championship as one of the favorites.
Jespersen, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward, is second in the NWAC in rebounding at 13.4 per game, while chipping in 11.4 points on 61.4-percent shooting from the floor. His contributions are a big reason why the Trojans went a perfect 14-0 in North Region play and head into the NWAC tournament, which begins Thursday at the Walt Price Student Fitness Center on the campus of Everett CC, as a No. 1 seed.
“He’s been huge,” Trautman said. “Without him I don’t know if we win the region, let alone go undefeated.”
But the union between Jespersen and the Trojans was not by grand design. It took a whole lot of circumstance to make the connection happen.
Jespersen was a youth basketball standout in his hometown of Aarhus. He came from a basketball family as both his parents played for their respective Danish national teams, and his sister was an honorable mention All-American at the University of South Florida. Jespersen began playing club basketball when he was 8, and by the time he was 13 he was playing for Danish youth national teams.
But Jespersen, who was a point guard and the smallest player on his teams, began suffering knee injuries because of the combination of heavy usage and growth spurts. The injuries caused him to miss year-long stretches, and eventually he decided to give up basketball.
Meanwhile, Jespersen’s brother began dating an American woman and moved with her to Marysville. Jespersen came to visit his brother last winter, and during his 10-day stay his brother brought Jespersen to a park pick-up game. One of the players at that game was Bobby Thompson, who played with Trautman at Everett CC 20 years ago. Thompson took one look at Jespersen and gave Trautman a call. The Trojans just happened to be holding an open gym the next day, so they invited Jespersen to attend.
“It didn’t even come to my mind that I may actually play here and be good friends with these people,” Jespersen said. “I just came to play basketball for fun.”
Jespersen was rusty, as he hadn’t picked up a basketball in the two years prior to the pick-up game. He also created some confusion by trying to play point guard at 6-foot-7. While the Trojans weren’t blown away, they saw enough to offer Jespersen a spot on the following season’s team.
Jespersen was interested. In the Danish school system, students are encouraged to take two years between high school and college to gain work experience or travel the world. Jespersen spent his first gap year working at a hospital in Denmark and was exploring possibilities for his second year. The chance to spend a year playing basketball abroad and be near his brother had its appeal. So Jespersen took the plunge.
“When I was younger I dreamed of playing a high level of basketball, but that dream went away because of the injuries,” Jespersen said. “But once I played at the open gym the dream kind of came back a little bit. And my girlfriend was pushing me to go here, saying, ‘You have one year left before you have to go back to Denmark and get a real education, you worked your first year, you have to see the world now. It honestly was an easy decision to make.”
Jespersen went through the typical adjustment period. On the court he had to adjust to becoming a post player instead of a perimeter player, off the court he had to adjust to a different culture and fitting in with new people. But the adjustment period was short. On the court, the fact he hadn’t played in two years meant he didn’t have to unlearn habits. Off the court his naturally engaging personality quickly won over his teammates.
“He’s the funniest guy you’ve ever met,” Everett star sophomore guard Markieth Brown Jr. said. “He has a great sense of humor and there’s never a dull moment when he’s around. He’s got a lot of jokes, and you can barely understand him so anything he says is super funny. He’s a super enjoyable dude.”
Jespersen wasn’t originally supposed to be a pivotal player for the Trojans. However, a combination of academic issues and health problems depleted Everett’s post depth, leaving Jespersen as the only player on the roster taller than 6-foot-4. Suddenly Jespersen’s height was desperately needed, and oh, how he has delivered. His biggest game came with his family in town from Denmark, as he went for 21 points and 28 rebounds in a victory at Edmonds. And his background as a point guard makes him a superior passer from the post.
Jespersen has played well enough to attract attention from NCAA Division II schools, but he seems content to limit his American adventure to its originally scheduled single year. He plans to head back to Denmark after the school year is over to continue his schooling back home.
But regardless of how the Trojans do at the NWAC tournament, Jespersen is thrilled with how his journey has turned out.
“It’s hard to put words on the experience and everything the guys have given me and the program and the coaches,” Jespersen said. “In the end it all worked out for the best and I’m so incredibly happy I did it.”
If you have an idea for a community sports story, email Nick Patterson at email@example.com.