As coach-to-player challenges go, the one Davidson’s Bob McKillop threw down to guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson was particularly demanding.
Before the season, McKillop took Gudmundsson, a 6-foot-4 sophomore from Iceland, aside. For the Wildcats to truly flourish, McKillop told Gudmundsson he would have to perform in the way former star guard Tyler Kalinoski did for Davidson three seasons ago – particularly on the boards.
That was no small request from McKillop. Also 6-4, Kalinoski was a do-everything player for Davidson, who as a senior in 2015 was the Atlantic 10’s player of the year and led the Wildcats to a berth in the NCAA tournament. Kalinoski averaged 16.7 points and 4.1 assists that season, but equally as important, also grabbed 5.7 rebounds per game.
Gudmundsson has hardly shied away from McKillop’s challenge. He has taken to it with aplomb, averaging 14.6 points (third on the team behind senior forward Peyton Aldridge and freshman guard Kellan Grady) and a team-high 4.6 assists. Then there’s this: He’s managed to exceed Kalinoski’s rebounding numbers at 6.4 per game.
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Said Gudmundsson: “I’ve been this way my whole life. I’ve always been a big guard who’s capable of rebounding. I like to stick my nose in there.”
Gudmundsson’s stat-sheet filling contributions have played a big part in Davidson’s fast start in the A-10. Second-place Davidson (9-7, 4-1 A-10) gets its biggest conference test Friday against St. Bonaventure (12-5, 2-3) at Belk Arena.
“He’s a connector,” McKillop said of Gudmundsson. “He gets everyone involved, in the frontcourt and backcourt. He finds cracks in the defense. And he’s got that (sense) for the ball that also made Tyler so valuable to us. He’s a little quicker than Tyler was, but he’s not quite as good a shooter.”
“There are comparisons to be made with Tyler. They both can play three positions, with their ability to rebound, shoot and play the point. They’re both versatile and tough.”
Gudmundsson has been close to triple-double territory on more than one occasion this season. He has three nine-rebound games and had 10 assists in a victory against Charlotte.
I’ve always been a big guard who’s capable of rebounding. I like to stick my nose in there.
Jon Axel Gudmundsson
All this from a player who, as a junior in high school, didn’t like being away from his home in Grindavik, Iceland, very much.
Gudmundsson, who has been a standout on Iceland’s youth international teams since he was 15, left his home country to play high school basketball at Philadelphia’s Church Farm School. Basketball is in his DNA: His father played professionally in Germany (where Jon Axel was born) and his mother also was an excellent player.
But life in America didn’t agree with Gudmundsson, nor did he think he was developing well as a player. Homesick, he returned to Iceland midway through his junior year to finish his high school career.
6.4 Rebounds per game for Gudmundsson
Using connections developed over decades at coaching clinics overseas, McKillop had already noticed Gudmundsson.
“I was told about a kid who came to States then left,” McKillop said. “He kind of went off the map.”
McKillop reconnected with Gudmundsson. After a recruiting visit to Davidson – which he found more to his liking than Philadelphia – Gudmundsson signed with the Wildcats.
It’s been well documented that McKillop’s recruiting strategy knows no international bounds. Gudmundsson is one of five players from overseas on this season’s Wildcats roster. More than 40 former Davidson players have played professionally in Europe. Kalinoski, for example, is playing in Belgium.
“It’s actually not like we’re from different countries,” Gudmundsson said. “We’ve got that chemistry that makes everybody feel welcome. That’s just the way it is around Davidson.”
This Davidson team might be equally as talented as the one from Kalinoski’s senior season, when the Wildcats won the A-10’s regular-season title in their first year in the conference. Aldridge is playing up to his A-10 preseason player-of-the-year honor and the dynamic Grady will contend for the conference’s rookie of the year. Sophomore guard KiShawn Pritchett is coming into his own after his career was stalled by a serious knee injury.
But the Wildcats might go only as far as Gudmundsson can take them. He’s not one to back down from a good challenge.
David Scott: @davidscott14
Jon Axel Gudmundsson is one of five players from overseas on this year’s Davidson team:
Dusan Kovacevic, sophomore
Nathan Ekwu, junior
Jon Axel Gudmundsson, sophomore
Oskar Michelsen, senior
Will Magarity, senior