March Madness: ‘There’s something pure about Jack Gohlke,’ Oakland’s masterful 3-point shooter

Oakland's Jack Gohlke (3) shoots a 3-pointer over Kentucky's Rob Dillingham (0) during the first half of a college basketball game in the first round of the men's NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

Oakland’s Jack Gohlke (3) shoots a 3-pointer over Kentucky’s Rob Dillingham (0) during the first half of a college basketball game in the first round of the men’s NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The shots at times looked crazy. Maybe some of them were crazy. Off balance. Deep. Double-teamed. Hand in his face. Hand on his back. Off flares. Off curls. Spotted up. On the run.

It didn’t matter. Not to Jack Gohlke. The Oakland guard had practiced them all thousands of times in nondescript gyms across the Midwest during a quietly excellent basketball career that suddenly and in the most March Madness of ways got very, very loud on Thursday night when the 24-year-old master’s degree student helped the 14th-seeded Grizzlies upend third-seeded Kentucky one gasp-inducing, bracket-wrecking 3-pointer at a time.

There were 10 3s in all — one short of the NCAA Tournament single-game record — in the kind of star-making performance that will be forever etched into the fabric of what makes this event so special.

The fallout overnight was typical. Thousands of new followers on social media. A couple of national television hits. Autograph requests and congratulatory texts and all the rest.

“All this attention it’s really cool, don’t get me wrong,” the Horizon League Sixth Man of the Year said Friday. “But it’s definitely weird for me.”

What isn’t weird for Gohlke — who along with the Grizzlies (24-11) will face 11th-seeded North Carolina State (23-14) on Saturday in the second round — is an inherent belief in himself borne not out of swagger but a relentless work ethic honed from thousands of hours in the gym.

Maybe the only people not surprised by Gohlke’s nationally televised 40-minute heat check are the 6-foot-3 guard with the widow’s peak and limitless range and the people who have spent years watching him hone a very specific set of skills. First at Pewaukee High in suburban Milwaukee then at Division II Hillsdale College, a small (enrollment 1,400) private school about two hours southwest of Detroit.

Whispering updates across the room to his wife in an effort not to wake his infant son, Hillsdale coach Keven Bradley felt a mix of awe and “of course.”

“You watch the shots he took and made, for 99% of college basketball players, those are bad shots, shots you don’t want your guys taking,” Bradley said. “I mean this from the bottom of my heart, every single one of those shots he took and made are shots that he religiously practices every single day.”

It’s always been that way. Michael Basile saw it regularly while coaching Gohlke for nearly a decade as Gohlke evolved from a quiet fourth-grader into one of the driving forces at Pewaukee High before graduating in 2018.

“Anyone that knows Jack well, we’ve seen these performances, just never against a blue blood,” Basile said. “The only shocking thing was the national stage.”

What Golkhe did against the Wildcats wasn’t his indoctrination into March Madness. He spent five years at Hillsdale and in 2022 helped the Chargers to their first appearance in Division II’s Elite Eight, scoring 15 points in a regional final win over Missouri-St. Louis.

Attendance that night? 117.

There were 18,586 people crammed inside PPG Paints Arena on Thursday, many of them wearing Kentucky blue to support the second-winningest program in Division I history and its seemingly never-ending stream of future NBA players.

Yet what stood out to Gohlke wasn’t the sea of bodies in the stands or the future millionaires in white trying to chase him around, but the sound the entire arena made whenever a pass headed in his direction.

“I noticed like if I caught the ball, like I could just hear the crowd like kind of collect their breath,” Gohlke said. “I had never noticed that on the court, anything like that. Just hearing that big of a crowd, that type of thing go on, that was kind of cool, but also just a surreal experience of everyone’s kind of on the edge of their seat whenever I touched the ball.”

Except, of course, when they were on their feet, which was frequently for a player whose only real choices coming out of high school were Division III Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Hillsdale. A player who went to the Hillsdale coaching staff last spring and essentially asked for permission to transfer to Oakland, about two hours away in suburban Detroit.

Here’s the thing: Gohlke didn’t need to. He earned his degree in accounting and Hillsdale doesn’t offer a post-graduate business program. There was no reason for him to ask for the blessing of his coaches while he looked for a place to play the extra year of eligibility awarded by the NCAA to players during the COVID-19 era.

Gohlke did anyway.

“He never wanted to disappoint anybody,” Bradley said. “We assured him and told him, ‘This isn’t you leaving. This is you moving on to something bigger and better. You’ll always be a part of this program.’”

So much so that it wasn’t uncommon for Gohlke to make the two-hour drive from Oakland to Hillsdale during the season to keep tabs on his former team. When the Chargers hosted a home game in February, Gohlke watched from the stands and then retreated to the coach’s office for an hour to talk ball.

It’s always been that way for Gohlke, a perfectionist who for all the swagger when he gets going — yes, he really did the Michael Jordan shoulder shrug after hitting his sixth 3 against Kentucky — isn’t above the occasional temper tantrum.

“In a workout, I’m throwing balls, punting balls,” said Gohlke, who is averaging 12.8 points per game. “I’m upset at myself if I missed a shot. But in a game, you got to have the levelheaded mentality.”

A level-headedness he is intent on maintaining no matter when his college career ends.

While Gohlke — like any MBA student would — is attempting in a small way to cash in on his sudden notoriety, the reality is he understands this is fleeting. The end of his basketball career is in sight. He knows this. The flash of fame is nice. It’s just never been the point.

At some point soon, Gohlke will put that MBA to use. Maybe he’ll be the CFO of a small company. Maybe have a team of 10-15 people he can work with to do something “cool.”

No matter what happens on Saturday night or beyond, Gohlke will always have those two remarkable hours against Kentucky, when Oakland pulled a stunner and the player who spent most of his life toiling in anonymity seized the spotlight and provided the tournament and a rapidly changing sport with a reminder that there is still some magic amid all the madness.

You just need to know where to look.

“In reality, with all the craziness of college athletics at that level and NIL and everything,” former Hillsdale coach and current athletic director John Tharp said, “there’s something pure about Jack Gohlke.”

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