By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – When Brady Jens swished a free throw late in the game on Saturday afternoon to score his one-thousandth point, it wasn’t just teammates, family and Denmark fans joining in the jubilation.
Freedom coaches stood and applauded too.
And when the seemingly endless celebration of Jens’s accomplishment – lots of hugs, lots of photos — following Denmark’s crucial 65-52 win over Freedom had apparently run its course, it actually hadn’t. Here came a couple of Freedom players across the court to also congratulate the senior guard with the dark mop of curly hair.
Brady Jens is a favorite not just among fans and teammates – “the greatest ever,” Zane Short playfully said afterward – but among opponents as well and you get the feeling if you dropped the ‘1’ from the big milestone on Saturday, if instead of a thousand, his career totals were nothing but zeroes, he still would be.
“He deserves it so much,” says Jack Satori, who has played with Jens since fourth grade. “He’s like a brother to me. He just has so much character with all he’s been through.”
His head coach, Cody Stelmach, says Jens is not just a key part of the team, but of the school itself.
“He’s one of those kids everyone looks up to, that everybody gravitates towards,” Stelmach says. “He’s a leader within the school. The points are great, but more than that he’s just a great young man. He’s got some special things coming to him in life.”
Jens, who is in his fourth season with the Vikings – he averaged 9.3 points as a freshman – might not have ever taken up the sport, says his mother, Carie. It took the prodding of youth basketball coach Bart Gezella, father of Jens’s teammate, Zach Gezella, to finally convince him in fourth grade to give it a try.
He would say, no thanks, I’m good. Finally, he went out for the fourth-grade team.
“He’d come home from practice and I’d say, ‘how was it?’” Carie Jens remembers. “He’d say he had a great time, but he still wasn’t sure he wanted to play.”
Now, eight years later, this bunch of Denmark seniors – Jens, Gezella, Jack Satori, Zane Short and Patrick Suemnick – are still together, and will battle for a North Eastern Conference championship on Monday at Wrightstown.
Along the way, life dropped a hammer on Jens when his father died suddenly – on the bench during one of Brady’s seventh-grade games.
“It was a lot of emotions flooding back today,” Carie says. “Jeff loved helping Bart coach and he was always helping the guys out.”
‘He’s Just So Nice’
Jens entered the Freedom game 17 shy of a thousand, a mark he would certainly have hit much earlier in the season had it not been for a hairline fracture of his ankle suffered in practice after the first game. He missed the next 11 games and was clearly not fully up to Brady standards when he returned. He admits it was hard rediscovering the chemistry he and his teammates had established over the previous eight seasons playing together. His shot was off, and he didn’t fully trust that his ankle would allow him to employ one of his greatest strengths – slashes to the basket.
In his seven games back heading into Freedom on Saturday, Jens had hit double figures just once. Against Freedom, the old Brady Jens was back, knocking down four three-pointers and on occasion gliding comfortably through the league’s best defense and attacking the rim again. His 21 points were instrumental in a critical win in the race for the first Denmark boys’ basketball league championship in 22 years.
“I wasn’t expecting it to happen today, but I mean I was very thankful my first couple of shots fell,” he says. “That boosted my confidence. And I give a lot of credit to the guys with their ability to find me today. I’m just super thankful I’m feeling better.”
As for the frustration of missing all those games in his final season – a season that has the potential to be special – Jens has been able to shake it off, to keep things in perspective.
“I’ve kind of been through a lot,” he says. “And I knew if I could get through (his father’s death), I could get through just about anything, so I just kept reminding myself to stay positive. And the guys all helped me through it.”
Jens, a 43-percent shooter from beyond the arc, averaged 15.5 points as a sophomore and 14.6 last year. He – and his coach and teammates — understands that his contributions are going to be essential if Denmark is to snag its first-ever NEC crown and its first conference title since 1997. The thousand points was nice, he says. But there’s plenty more at stake.
“That conference championship has just kind of been hanging up there,” he says. “And we knew we needed to take care of business tonight in order to get to (the Wrightstown game).”
Jens became the second Viking this season to reach 1,000, the seventh overall. Zane Short hit the milestone in the first Wrightstown game on Jan. 11.
Carie Jens says that what made Saturday extra special was that he was able to share it with Satori and Gezella, who have been such close friends for nearly a decade. But, like his head coach, Jens’s mother is most proud of the young man her son has turned out to be, especially given what he has been through.
“The coolest thing about Brady is he just always displays such great character,” she says. “So he’s the kid helping the other player up, or telling the other kids, ‘Good game.’ And I think the other teams respect him for that. He’s just so nice. I’m so proud of the person he is more than anything else.”
Stelmach says when a boy as young as Brady endures such a sudden tragedy, it can go “one of two ways. I know what his father meant to him and how basketball was a big part of he and his dad. And he carried himself the right way and made himself a great young man, doing great in school and going on to college.
“I’m just so happy to see him have this success.”