#TGW: Never Sit Still

April 30, 2018

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

– It won’t be long before Kristian Sjolund enrolls at Georgia Tech, and when the long, lean lad brings his well-stamped passport to The Flats, men’s basketball head coach Josh Pastner will add his kind of player — a student-athlete who’s hard to peg.

At 6-feet-8, 193 pounds, Sjolund will show up with a physical profile similar to that of Quinton Stephens, who graduated in 2017. He’ll bring a good bit of Q’s shooting stroke and length, and like Quinton in his early days, he won’t be expected to drop anchor in the paint. In this day and age, who expects that of anyone?

Sjolund, part of a Tech recruiting class ranked No. 34 in the nation, has been around enough blocks to expect plenty of himself.

Largely of Norwegian descent, he’s lived in Washington, Norway, Houston, Norway, and Houston again.

His game is similarly diverse in construction, which is why Pastner and his staff reached out about a year ago to Katy, Texas, just west of the head coach’s hometown of Houston. The coach seeks diversity over a player over a singularly-styled player who almost always plays with his back to the basket or does little more than shoot 3-pointers.

That’s Sjolund.

What should Tech fans expect?

“They can expect me to attack coast to coast, push the ball, make quick buckets,” he said. “And I play for others. I’ll set a screen and make a play. I like to shoot a lot; that’s my weapon, but I like to create for others, too.”

Serving as something of a glue player in his senior season, Sjolund didn’t blow away anyone, yet he consistently filled box scores in multiple categories.

Tompkins fell in overtime to Allen in the Texas 6A state championship game, narrowly missing the title in the big school division. The Falcons had a dynamic backcourt, led by All-State guards Jamal Bieniemy — an Oklahoma signee — and C.J. Washington, who weeks ago signed with Kennesaw State.

He was a little bit lost in the buzz about his team, which included 11 seniors and a couple more players who received college scholarships.

But nobody should be surprised that Sjolund plays basketball.

His father, Bjorn, whose job with Kongsberg Maritime has several times carried the family back and forth between his native Norway and the United States, played some basketball, and he’s 6-7. While his mother, Rebecca, wasn’t much of an athlete growing up in Florida, she’s 5-10.

After several years playing soccer and basketball, Kristian began to separate.

“Let’s say I kind of thought I started to develop much better after eighth grade; I started to see more out of myself,” he said. “So it was OK, this is going to be something good. I just kept working and see how far I can go. I’ve been taller all along.”

For whatever reasons, it is difficult to find high school statistics on Sjolund, but his averages of 18.7 points and 5.9 rebounds stand out from when he played for Norway in the 2015 FIBA Under-16 European Championships. He averaged about 10 points and five rebounds for Tompkins as a junior.

After he scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots for Tompkins in a January win in the regular season, Falcons head coach Bobby Sanders told the Katy News, “He’s been playing well. He’s shooting the ball well for us. He’s rebounding well and blocking a lot of shots.”

Coming up through the ranks, Sjolund may not have drawn as much attention as would be typical in part because his summer coach, Stephon Leary of the AAU’s Katy Shooting Stars, apparently takes an atypical approach.

His program is noted for NOT being affiliated or sponsored by any of the sneaker giants. Leary has known Pastner for several years, however, and in addition to turning his alma mater, Liberty, onto Sjolund, he drew other programs to him as well.

With Tulsa, Boise State, High Point, Tulane, Baylor and Ole Miss also inquiring about Sjolund, his tape to Georgia Tech triggered Pastner.

“The first call I got from them was last year around this time, in April, and it was a scholarship and was very surprised,” Sjolund said. “I have a skills coach named Stephon Leary, and he’s been helping with my recruitment, sending messages to other schools and videos.”

Sjolund made only one official recruiting visit, to Georgia Tech, where he’ll consider majoring in architecture or industrial design.

“I got a good feeling from the people, although there weren’t a lot [of players] there [when he visited last August],” he said. “They’re really fun to hang out with.”

While Kristian does not figure to address the Jackets’ two most notable personnel losses in center Ben Lammers or two-way guard Tadric Jackson, he may help Pastner reach his goal of putting four or even five multi-positional players on the floor at once.

His family background may help.

Djorn came to the U.S. as an exchange student while in high school. While in Florida, he met Rebecca. One of her grandfathers was from Norway.

They don’t know as much about basketball as Kristian.

He played mostly power forward, albeit stretched, for Tompkins, where Sjolund may factor for Tech chiefly at what approximates a swing position, particularly if his shot shows up often enough and he can defend. Most of his defensive highlights in high school came near the rim, but he may not spend much time in that area in the ACC.

Like Stephens, he’ll do better to bulk up. Quinton ate and ate, and Kristian is trying a similar approach.

“I’m trying to add weight,” he said. “I’ll be a forward who . . . [will] be dribbling a lot to attack the rim from the wing, and make a play for a teammate. But not dribbling too much.”

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