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Posted On: 04/4/18 9:47 AM
It was a tough season for the North Branch Vikings, struggling to a 6-20 regular season record. However, they came up with a big win in the Section 7AAA quarterfinals, upsetting the #2 seed Hibbing Bluejackets.
They will be losing nearly two-thirds of their scoring output from last season, but they have reason to be optimistic heading into next season, and that reason is 6’9” big-man, Zach Gazda.
For the 2017-2018 season, the Mississippi 8 All-Conference member averaged 12.5 PPG, 8.3 REB, and 3.3 BLK. With 130 total blocks for his career, Gazda is already the all-time leader in blocked shots for North Branch.
“I have really improved my defense with blocking shots and rebounding on both ends” says Gazda. North Branch head coach Alex Kuhlman says of Gazda, “He is a very good shot blocker, setting the all-time career blocks record at North Branch with a season left to play. [Zach] Also had a very good season on the glass, leading the team.”
Gazda is more than just a low-post option and space-eater in the lane, as he continues to develop his mid-range game and ability to shoot from beyond the arc. “I am comfortable playing both back to the basket and face-up. My ability to shoot from the outside really opens up the lane for my team and stretches out the defense.”
As a sophomore two-seasons ago, Gazda shot 35.3% from deep. His percentage from three dropped a bit this season after a slow start, but he shot the three at a 33.3% clip over their last six games. “He is an excellent mid-range shooter that is able to stretch beyond three” says Kuhlman, adding “If he is more consistent from three next year, it would make him a very tough matchup as a stretch five.”
When asked what his 6’9” big needs to work on over the summer, Kuhlman says that he “Needs to add strength, which will help him increase his overall athleticism. He was able to add 20 pounds last year and he hopes to add on another 25 before November.” Gazda agrees with his coach’s assessment, saying “My goal before next high school season is to work with a trainer to gain around 25 pounds, become more explosive, and become a better ball handler.”
This spring and summer, Gazda is playing for Crossfire Bellefeuille and is itching to get started. “I am looking forward to all of the AAU tournaments this summer, we have a great group of guys again and it’s a fun team to play with.”
Gazda increased his stock considerably after a solid junior year and has garnered the interest of a handful of college programs. “I am currently keeping my options open and seeing how the summer goes. I have been contacted by several D3 schools and have been in contact with a few D2 colleges as well.”
Kuhlman points out that with a solid senior season, Gazda could leave North Branch as one of the best all-around players they have seen. “[Zach] has a chance to finish his career with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, and 200 blocks, it would put him in the top five in points, first in blocks, and first in rebounds in North Branch history.”
His success has been a byproduct of hard work, as Kuhlman says that Gazda recorded 50,000+ shots in the last calendar year. The work is not stopping for Gazda, he says “I have been working in the weight room to continue to get bigger and have been getting up a lot of shots.”
Zach Gazda will be a player to watch this summer and into next season, as his combination of size and skill make him a very intriguing prospect.