CC grad follows coach’s footsteps to North Dakota, joins team staff

Spencer Wilker (left) has become a member of the Division 1 North Dakota State coaching staff, while still in school. (Submitted/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

It’s March Madness time in America, a magical couple of weeks where college basketball’s best 64 teams battle it out for the national championship – and millions of fans fill out their brackets in hopes of big prizes.

This Thursday and Friday, people will stream Marquette and Wisconsin games at their office desk, pushing some work to the background.

Catholic Central 2015 graduate Spencer Wilker can’t wait for the tournament.

But the North Dakota State University senior won’t simply be watching on television, like the rest of us.

Wilker is actually the Student Director of Basketball Operations for the Bison, who won the Summit League championship and opened the tournament in the First Four Wednesday night.

He was on the sidelines on national television with his squad, and he has a hand in helping the players with everything college-related.

From team travel to film breakdown, Wilker is in constant communication with the players.

A solid player for the Hilltoppers, Wilker followed his high school coach, Eric Henderson, to NDSU after Henderson got an assistant coaching job.

He became team manager and worked his way up to director of operations when Casey Matthews offered him the job before accepting a new position at Creighton University.

The Standard Press caught up with Wilker, who is currently living the dream on college basketball’s biggest stage.

 

SP: How did you get here? Take us through your journey since high school.

SW: I graduated from CC and four weeks later I came up to NDSU to work basketball camps. I knew I was going to NDSU to be a manager and with the help of Coach Henderson was able to come and work the camps in the summer before school got started.

All of their managers from the previous year were not going to return, so I was the only one they had at the time. That resulted in me becoming the head manager, which allows you to travel with the team. That summer was the foreign trip to the Bahamas, and I was fortunate to be able to go. I’ve traveled every road trip since then.

Every year since then my roles and responsibilities have increased, and this year I was given another great opportunity to step into a even bigger role.

SP: How did this job come about? How has life changed?

SW: Well technically I am the Student Director of Basketball Operations. Not an official assistant coach. I worked closely with our director of operations Casey Matthews for the last three years.

He taught me everything I needed to know and how to do this job well when I graduated and tried looking for a job elsewhere. Casey was fortunate to get a position on the staff at Creighton University and his position became open at NDSU.

Knowing that this is the business I want to be in, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse and accepted the job. I was our head manager for the last three years, so that is how I was able to learn so much from Casey and our entire staff.

Life isn’t much different, I am a lot busier now and went into the “real world” a year early while still going to school. That I would say was the biggest change for me, having to do school and a full-time job, but I am thankful and blessed for the opportunity and wouldn’t change a thing.

 

SP: Is this trip to March Madness surreal?

SW: I think the feelings when you win the conference championship is something I won’t ever forget.

You just look out on the floor and see everybody celebrating and it’s something I dreamed of doing for the last three years. So to be able to do that was awesome. The feeling though of knowing you’re going to the NCAA tournament doesn’t really go away for awhile.

We had a Selection Sunday show at our arena and just to see all the fans who came out and supported our team was awesome. Then when you see your school’s name come up on the screen, it’s a pretty cool feeling. I think once we walk into the arena for the first time and see the court, that’s when for me it’ll finally be real.

 

SP: Did you ever think you would be involved in the NCAA tournament? Why has this team been so special?

SW: I would like to think I did. This was my goal and hopefully my career path for the rest of my life, so I was hoping to be able to get to one. I’m incredibly blessed to be able to go in just my fourth year in the business.

Our team is made up of a great group of guys. They like each other, they enjoy playing on the court together and hanging out off the court as well. I think that’s really important into why we were able to make our run. It also helps we got hot shooting in the Summit League tournament. I love those guys to death and to be able to see them accomplish their goals, it was a great feeling.

 

SP: Do you ever get back to Catholic Central?

SW: I do once in awhile. It has been mostly over Christmas break where my former teammates and I try and play pick-up. I haven’t been able to get to a game since their state run but I still keep track of them on Twitter and through (former teammates) Tegan Miles and Bailey Wright, who have siblings on the team now.

Being a Topper was a great experience. I think the people who were there led me to be where I am at today.

 

SP: When did you develop a love for basketball and coaching?

SW: I think once I decided that I was not going to play sports in college and decided to go to NDSU this became the goal. To become a coach is for sure something I wanted.

My love for basketball started when I would go to Marquette games with my Grandpa and Dad. That is where I fell in love with basketball and college basketball in general. Then being able to get involved with college basketball was something I couldn’t pass up, and I’ve developed a new love for coaching.

 

SP: Who has been your biggest inspiration along the way?

SW: I would say my grandpa. He died when I was in sixth grade, and we used basketball to really bond. We were really close, to the point where he was my best friend.

Being able to stay in the game that we used to love is something that I really think motivated me to try and keep basketball a part of my life.

I also think my parents and uncles have been as well, they showed me how to work for what you want in life and how to work hard.

I also have had great mentors along the way. Coach Eric Henderson and Coach Kyle Scott both have helped me along the way, and I couldn’t be more thankful for their guidance. Coach Steve Smith, Casey Matthews, and our current staff at NDSU have also been great to learn from as well.

 

SP: What has been the most challenging part? The best part?

SW: The most challenging part of it would be the time commitment. We started in the last week of September full practice and are still playing.

The trips and days can be long, and sometimes you’d like to be able to go home for certain things or events but can’t. That’s probably been the most challenging part for myself.

The best part is being a part of a team.

Even though sometimes we get on each other’s nerves, we love each other and I know I have friends for life.

 

SP: You’re graduating in May with what kind of degree? What do you want to do after graduation?

SW: I am graduating with my strategic communication degree with a minor in Wellness. I hope to be able to stay in the college basketball business and continue to work my way up and coach for a long time.

This has become my passion, and I am excited to see what the future holds.