If you had asked Mercer Island boys basketball head coach Gavin Cree three years ago what school record would never be broken, he would have told you that Paul Jerue’s record of 43 career charges drawn from 1980-82 was there to stay.
“It’s definitely a record that you thought was never going to be broken,” Cree said. “Forty-three charges, who’s going to take that many?”
Along came Luke Wenzel, a 6-foot-5 senior forward who drew his record-tying 43rd career charge during the Islanders’ 47-31 victory over the Sammamish Totems on Jan. 7.
Not every basketball player is going to put their body on the line to draw a charging foul, but that’s not the case for Wenzel, who has drawn 18 charges this season.
Last season, Wenzel knew that in order to start, he had to do the little things, which included taking charges. In his junior season he drew 25 charges, one short of the single-season record of 26 held by Mike Ginn in the 1973-74 season. Cree said it’s been amazing to see Wenzel take charges for the team.
“He didn’t quite break it last year, but we knew that he would have a chance this year if he could stay healthy,” Cree said.
While some players look to avoid contact, Wenzel a baseball player and former football player, embraces it.
“I played football for most of my life, so the contact wasn’t a problem for me,” Wenzel said. “My dad, my brother and I would go out on the field on a rainy day and hit each other with football pads on. I think I’m kind of used to it.”
Wenzel, a catcher for the Mercer Island baseball team, said he enjoys the physical side of both basketball and baseball.
“To be a catcher, you have to be mobile and be willing to take contact,” Wenzel said. “You could get a foul tip hit you in the neck, you can’t really get out of the way, you just have to stay with it.”
Wenzel said his toughness comes from his dad and his brother Nate, who is also a forward for the Islanders. When the two brothers play one-on-one, he said it can get chippy because the two are extremely competitive.
“We have to have our dad or a police car there in case we break out into a fight,” Wenzel said jokingly. “There’s physicality, we shove, we elbow. We’re that competitive, we’re that physical.”
While drawing charges isn’t always going to grab headlines, Cree said it’s a play that can have a large impact on the game.
“A lot of times it turns to foul trouble for a key player, because those are the guys being aggressive and going to the hoop,” Cree said. “I think it strikes fear in other teams. I know when we prepare for other teams who are good at taking charges, it’s something you have to talk about. It takes away your aggressiveness.”
Cree said that drawing charges is an important part of their defense.
“It’s cool because (Luke) is not the only guy who takes them on the team,” Cree said. “It has turned into a contagious thing. It’s sort of the identity of our defense.”
Wenzel said drawing a charge can also create momentum.
“When they see you take a body, (your teammates) are like,’Wow, he really took one for the team’” Wenzel said. “It can really shift the energy in a game. If we’re down by five or 10 and I get a charge, the energy starts to build up.”
While Wenzel wants to break the record for most charges drawn in a single season, he’s more focused on team success.
“We all want to go to state,” Wenzel said. “Everyone knows their role and so we’re trying to all contribute as best we can for the team. I want to leave a legacy and I know my brother does too. We want to put a banner up on the wall.”