The recruiters are coming around again. And this time, Tywhon Pickford is determined to show them they’re not wasting their time.
Pickford, Maple Grove’s dynamic 6-4 senior guard, is doing everything a Division I-caliber guard should: scoring at a considerable rate (21.2 points per game), using his remarkable athleticism, bolstering his offensive repertoire with a reliable jump shot, attacking the glass relentlessly and playing defense with a passion.
“He’s playing at a different level,” Maple Grove coach Nick Schroeder said.
A varsity starter since ninth grade, Pickford’s skills were obvious every time he stepped on court — his ability to slash to the basket, finish at the rim, outjump taller opponents for rebounds. And college coaches took notice.
Problem was, every time Pickford appeared poised to establish himself as a premier player, his knees balked.
A bruised right knee kept him out of the sections playoffs as a freshman. And last year, in the midst of a breakout season that had him on the cusp of stardom, Pickford was waylaid by a torn meniscus in his left knee.
He was averaging more than 18 points per game at the time and was one of three Division I-caliber players — along with guard Brad Davison and now-graduated center Reed Nikko — on a Crimson roster that looked bound for a deep state tournament run.
“I was just messing around before a game and I landed on my foot wrong. When I tried to stand up, I couldn’t,” Pickford said, his plight reminiscent of an identical injury suffered by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. “At first, I was depressed. I was having such a good season and then I couldn’t be out there with my teammates.”
Behind the leadership of Davison, the Wisconsin-recruit who was the Star Tribune’s 2016 Metro Football Player of the Year, Maple Grove still managed to get to the state tournament. But without Pickford, the Crimson struggled to generate offense and lost to Lakeville North, the eventual Class 4A runner-up, in the quarterfinals.
At the same time, the college inquiries all but dried up.
“It was a bad time in that locker room after the loss,” Pickford said. “On Twitter and in school, a lot of people were saying that if we had Tywhon, we would have won. That pushed me to get back.”
Said Schroeder, “Last year was obviously a big blow because he was having such a remarkable year.
“We didn’t necessarily start over when he went down, but we had to revamp how we attacked things on offense. We made state and did a nice job, but with him healthy, it could have been much more.”
Instead of sulking, however, Pickford remained upbeat and threw himself into rehabilitating his knee. He finally returned to the court in the spring to play with D-I Minnesota, his AAU team.
“He might have come back a little early, but he wanted to play himself back into basketball shape,” Schroeder said.
“He’s lost weight and put on about 15 pounds of muscle, a credit to his work ethic.”
Close friend and teammate Gare Ewefada said Pickford never wavered in his belief that he would come back better than he was before.
“He was always optimistic,” said Ewefada, the 6-2 sixth man for Maple Grove. “I respect how he’s bounced back.”
With Pickford playing like the injury never happened, Maple Grove has jumped out to a 5-1 record and the No. 2 ranking in Class 4A. The Crimson already has defeated DeLaSalle and Apple Valley, a signature victory in which Pickford scored 32 points.
And the recruiters are back, in larger numbers than before.
He’s received offers from Tulane, Siena, Northern Iowa, San Diego, Chicago Loyola and South Dakota State, with an expectation of more to come.
“That’s important because my goal is to go to college and not have my mom have to pay a cent,” Pickford said. “She was my motivation.”
Schroeder is certain that Pickford is going to make some college team extremely happy.
“He’s kind of faded to the background through no fault of his own,” Schroeder said. “He’s extremely under the radar. Every college coach I talk to says somebody is going to get a steal.”