Perham senior Josh Jeziorski has been going to the Minnesota boys basketball state tournament every year since sixth grade. He was in the crowd last season with some of his Perham teammates. Perham's only loss of the season had come in the Class 2A, Section 8 championship game to Breckenridge. The Yellowjackets fell one win short of the state tournament for the third season in a row.
"I was down there and I watched Breckenridge," Jeziorski said. "I've always come to the tournament, wishing to play in it."
On Tuesday, Jeziorski was on a bus on his way to the state tournament. This time, people will go to the tournament to watch him, as No. 3 seed Perham opens the Class 2A tournament against Redwood Valley at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Williams Arena.
"It's crazy," Jeziorski said of winning a section championship. "It was a real fun experience. It was great for our community and great for our team."
Jeziorski enters the state tournament as the leading scorer and rebounder for Perham. The 6-foot-3 forward is averaging 18.1 points and 7.1 rebounds a game this season for the 29-1 Yellowjackets..
"He's spent a lot of time in the gym in the offseason and during the season as well," Perham senior guard Jenson Beachy said. "He's gotten a lot bigger in the weight room, which has helped him progress as a rebounder on both sides of the ball. He's gotten a lot more confident in shooting and in his ability to handle the ball."
There are baby pictures of Jeziorski holding a basketball. He grew up playing it in Browerville, Minn., before moving to Perham in eighth grade. He played traveling basketball with the Perham team before moving, so he was already familiar with their style of play.
"I loved it," Jeziorski said. "I just had a love for the game and it was competitive and fun to do."
Anyone who goes to a Perham basketball game can hear head coach Dave Cresap. His voice doesn't hide. Jeziorski may not be loud, but Cresap hears him.
"He's a young man that will tell you what's on his mind, which I like as a coach," Cresap said. "It's a leadership quality that Josh really developed this season. I like those kids that like to compete and almost look like they're arguing with the coach, but they're not."
It was his sophomore year at Perham where Jeziorski discovered he may have an opportunity to play at the next level. That's when he was starting to get playing time on varsity.
"It just hit me that I was pretty good and I had to take the next step," Jeziorski said. "I had to get on the AAU circuit, work out, lift, run, get more exposure to basketball and get to know more people and get my name out there."
Jeziorski had a string of six games toward the end of his junior season that Cresap called "magical."
"He'd come off the court and we wouldn't realize it, but he'd have like 18 points and 15 rebounds," Cresap said. "He became more consistent. He never had big games and then fell. That's when the recruiters starting coming to ask me about him."
Jeziorski added weight, worked on his speed and ball handling and the offers from some colleges came. He decided to go with Bemidji State.
"When I went to Bemidji and watched practice and the way they did things, it felt like home for me," Jeziorski said.
Jeziorski and Beachy are the only two players in the Perham boys basketball program to ever score 1,000 points in their career.
"In seventh grade he showed a lot of ability," Cresap said. "He had the skill set and work ethic that we knew something special was going to come out of that man. He decided he was going to be a gym rat and put in the hours needed. He was always a good shooter, but then his body grew and he added length and then he got in the weight room. That changed everything with his game."
Beachy was with Jeziorski in the stands last season at the state tournament. Beachy has been going to the state tournament every year since he was little. Last year's trip felt a little different.
"We went to go take it in," Beachy said. "I think going to the state tournament as a team made us realize how close we actually were to achieving our goal of the state tournament. It made us hungry."
Jeziorski has played varsity football, basketball and baseball since he was a sophomore. He never imagined he'd be playing college basketball.
"When I was younger I never knew what I wanted to do," Jeziorski said. "When I was in 10th grade I started to think I could maybe play college basketball if I wanted to get better at it. My dream came true to play college basketball."
But first things first. Perham is looking for its first win at the state tournament since 2012. Jeziorski is happy to be playing instead of watching.
"It's a crazy feeling," Jeziorski said. "We're excited. We think we can do some damage at this tournament. It's really nice to get out of our section. Once we get out there, we want people to realize who we are and what kind of basketball we play."