NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- Throughout its history, basketball has been a game renown for dynamic duos. The first famous pair, Mikan and Mikkelson, helped the Lakers dominate the early years of the NBA. The twosome of Russell and Havlicek dominated in Boston’s glory days, with Magic and Kareem and Stockton and Malone carrying on the proud tradition.
For the past four seasons, Carleton College has been home to one of the top duets in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) in the form of seniors Tom Sawatzke and Scott Theisen. Recently, they became the 26th and 27th members of Carleton’s 1,000-point club and have helped the Knights to berths in the MIAC Playoffs in three of their four seasons.
“There are few players who have impacted our program the way Tom Sawatzke and Scott Theisen have,” said Carleton Head Coach Guy Kalland. “They are talented, hard working, competitive and very team-oriented individuals, who have handled themselves with a tremendous amount of class in all situations on and off the court. They are role models for the younger players in our program, and they are held in high regard for their unswerving commitment to the game, to the team and to Carleton College.”
Heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Knights need to defeat Hamline - or get a little help - to secure a spot in the upcoming MIAC Playoffs. Theisen is having an MVP-caliber season, ranking third in field goals, scoring and rebounds in MIAC play. He leads the league in assists and steals. Sawatzke is also among the conference elite and leads the MIAC in three-pointers, is third in free throws made and is fourth in free throw accuracy and scoring.
Theisen is the only MIAC player to record a triple-double this season, and only the third to do so in the past 20 years. He posted a second triple-double last week and is one of two players at any level of NCAA play to post two this season.
The duo has had an impact on Carleton basketball since they arrived on campus. They joined a strong core of veterans that jelled down the stretch to nail down fourth place in the regular season during their freshman season. They then rolled through the MIAC Playoffs, beating Hamline and regular-season champion St. Thomas to reach the title game. There, they dispatched of Gustavus, 78-71, in the first overtime championship game. That win gave Carleton the MIAC’s automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Playoffs. The Knights lost a 59-58 heartbreaker to eventual national champion UW-Stevens Point.
In that game, Theisen was able to provide his team with five points in reserve and with a memorable chuckle. “Scott was our first player to check into the game,” said Sawatzke. “A few minutes into the first half, he ran to the scorer’s table and ripped off his warm up only to find nothing but a cut off shirt underneath. He had forgotten his uniform in the locker room. He rushed to the locker room, put on his uniform top and made it back before the next dead ball.”
Sawatzke was not immune to forgetfulness. This year, the Knights played November games in Hawaii and then South Dakota. “When we got back from Hawaii, he grabbed the wrong bag at baggage claim, and didn't realize it until we were in South Dakota that night for a game the following day,” revealed Theisen with a chuckle. “Thus, he had to go buy shoes at a local mall.”
The nucleus of the team returned for Sawatzke and Theisen’s sophomore year. Carleton rolled to a 17-3 record in league play, sharing the title with St. Thomas and earning the top seed for the MIAC Playoffs. They were upset by Gustavus, 70-64, in the semifinals and did not receive an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. They closed the season 18-8. Sawatzke was the Knights’ fifth-leading scorer hitting at a 7.9 points per game clip and ranked fifth in the MIAC in three-pointers made. Theisen was the team’s leading rebounder and sixth leading scorer. He also ranked among the league leaders in rebounds, steals and assists-to-turnover ratio.
Three starters from that team graduated, leaving Carleton with a young but talented club a year ago. Injuries hurt the Knights and they sank to 6-14 in MIAC play and 9-16 overall. Sawatzke led Carleton in scoring with an average of 14.7 points per game; Theisen was third with 12.0 and was second on the team in rebounding. Sawatzke was named to the All-MIAC First Team, while Theisen was named Honorable Mention.
This season, both Sawatzke and Theisen both reached the 1,000-point milestone. Theisen has notched 1,046 points, ranking him 23rd all-time at Carleton. Sawatzke has 1,109, putting in him 16th place. Sawatzke’s 192 three-pointers are fifth in Carleton’s record books. Theisen is seventh in school history with 286 assists and ninth in steals with 126.
Theisen is only the second Knight to ever record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists and 100 steals, and has the only two triple-doubles ever recorded at Carleton.
Sawatzke has a history of sinking impossible-looking buzzer beaters. “He definitely gives his all in practice every day, which I think is a big reason he has become the player he is today,” said Theisen. “He is definitely one of the most clutch players I have known, hitting two game-winners this year, and one last year.”
They have left an indelible mark on the Carleton program, something Kalland greatly appreciates. “Tom and Scott are very genuine and wonderful human beings who value their families and friends,” he said. “It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have coached them for the past four years. I am grateful for their many contributions to our program and our college, and I am proud of the mark they will have left on the MIAC.”
One factor in the often-seamless interplay between the duo is the fact that they were teammates long before either of them considered Carleton. They, along with fellow Knights senior Tyler Goetz, were teammate in youth basketball. “We first played together as third-graders for the Minnesota Magic,” Theisen stated. “We played third-to-fifth with the Magic and sixth grade with the Northwest Wolves. After that, we went our separate paths of basketball, but our families stayed close up until we met up again in college.”
The Magic had success in their years, most notably their fourth-grade season. “We won State that year and got to go to AAU nationals in Orlando,” Sawatzke said. “It was a really great experience. We did OK, but didn’t win it all, but still had a lot of fun.”
He added a comical sidelight: “[Scott] showed up to Disney world for nationals in fourth grade with shoes 3 ½ sizes too big because he thought they looked cool.”
Sawatzke would later travel to Belgium with a team from the Howard Pulley AAU club the summer after his junior year of high school. “There were ten of us on the trip,” he said. “We ran a seven-day camp for kids eight to 14 years old. We also played four games against local pro and amateur teams.”
Both come from athletic families. Theisen’s older sister Jenny played collegiate basketball at MSU-Moorhead; their mother played basketball at UM-Duluth. Sawatzke’s older sister Kristy played volleyball at St. Olaf while her twin, Clay, was part of the basketball program at Concordia. “All my uncles and aunts were high school athletes at Monticello,” Sawatzke noted. “My dad played football as well as basketball.”
Like his extended family, Sawatzke attended Monticello High, where he was Academic All-State in football, basketball and baseball. On the gridiron, he played receiver on offense and free safety on defense, garnering All-Conference honors as a senior. On the diamond, he played infield - primarily shortstop - and pitched.
Sawatzke was on the Monti basketball JV team as a freshman and saw limited playing time on the varsity. He took over as the starting point guard as a sophomore and received All-Conference honors his junior and senior seasons after Honorable Mention accolades as a sophomore. The Magic reached the Section final in Sawatzke’s junior year before losing. His senior year they went 20-6, but were upended in the Section semifinals. He holds the school record for career three-pointers and was a nominee for the McDonald’s All-American team. Sawatzke was chosen to play in the All-Star series, which showcases graduating seniors from around Minnesota.
Away from athletics, he was a member of the National Honor Society and was voted president of his senior class.
The summer before his senior year, Sawatzke was chosen to participate in Boys’ State, sponsored by the American Legion.”It was one of the greatest weeks of my life,” he said. “There were 300-400 guys there, and we had a mock government. At the week’s end, I was selected to be the governor.”
He was also selected to be one of two to represent Minnesota at Boys’ Nation, a similar conference held in Washington, D.C. “The highlight for me was going to the White House with the group and having the chance to meet President Bush,” Sawatzke said.
Theisen attended Champlin Park High, where he was part of the Rebels’ basketball program for four years. “I played on the golf team my sophomore year as well,” he said. “I wanted to try something different. I enjoyed it, but decided to focus on basketball after that.”
He spent two seasons on the sophomore team before making the varsity as a junior. That year, he was a key reserve before moving into the starting lineup as a senior. He was named to the All-Conference team both seasons and helped the Rebels reach the Section semifinals his senior year, where they lost to powerhouse Osseo. A highlight of his high school career was draining 11 three-pointers in a game his junior season.
Theisen was a member of the National Honor Society his junior and senior years. He was also Academic All-State in basketball as a senior.
Coming out of high school, both were heavily recruited. They heard from most of the members of the MIAC, as well as numerous Division II and III schools in the Upper Midwest.
Both wanted a school with strong academics and preferred to stay reasonably close to home. Both cite Kalland as a big factor in their decision, as well as Carleton’s trimester academic calendar. “The trimester setup allowed me to be able to study aboard and still play basketball, while a semester setup would not accommodate that,” Theisen pointed out.
Despite having played AAU ball together, the duo did not approach college with the idea of playing together. Both said that when they found out the other was considering Carleton they thought it was cool but did not let that enter into their decision. “It was later on in the recruiting process when I found out they played AAU together, and that the families were friends,” Kalland recalled. “I don't think it had a significant bearing on the overall recruiting process from our standpoint, but it was interesting.”
An added factor to the appeal of Carleton was the diversity of the student body. “I have always been fascinated by meeting new people,’ Sawatzke said. “At Carleton, there are people from all over and there is an incredible diversity here.”
Both have taken advantage of opportunities to study abroad. Theisen took part in a 10-week program and studied at Cambridge. “It was an Economics program, with four Econ classes including one taught by Cambridge professors,” he said. “We traveled a lot on weekends, going to Spain, France, Scotland and Germany.”
Last year, Sawatzke spent the spring trimester in Siena, Italy, for three months. “We studied culture, comparing it to US, language and the Economics of the EU. We also got in a lot of sightseeing, in places like Rome, Florence, London, Paris, Athens and the French Riviera.”
In addition to the rigorous academic demands and time devoted to basketball, both have found time for community involvement. Sawatzke has been active in Carleton’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) while Theisen has volunteered as an orderly at Hennepin County Medical Center. Theisen also interned in the summer of 2012 with a consulting firm in Minneapolis.
Theisen is an Economics major and is a pre-med student. “Pre-med isn't a major, but rather just a list of courses needed for med school,” he explained.
Theisen is planning a career in medicine. “I took the MCAT in July and did OK, but I want to retake it again in 2013,” he said.
He plans to spend the next year working, ideally in a long-term internship in the medical field, gaining experience and exposure before enrolling in Med School in the fall of 2014.
Sawatzke, a Political Science major, is considering playing basketball in Europe after graduation. He is also exploring career options in Business and Finance. “I’m leaning towards finding a job in the Pacific Northwest, as my parents are in the process of relocating to Washington state,” he said.
They are appreciative of the opportunity to play basketball for the Knights and Kalland. “He gives his unconditional support to us as a team, as basketball players and most importantly as individual people,” said Sawatzke.
Both are grateful for the time spent at Carleton and the education they have received there. “Carleton academics has prepared me for medical school," Theisen said. “The demands and the fast pace has prepared me well.”
The bond between the two runs deep and it is unlikely that they will “drift apart” as time passes after graduation. Beneath the good-natured joking lies a deep appreciation of the other, as a teammate and as a friend.
Theisen summed it up best by saying: “I truly enjoy playing with him, and am happy he and Ty Goetz are the two seniors I’m going to hang ‘em up with when the season is over.”