Written by Tim Gallagher; BVU Assistant Director of Communications
Connor Winkelman spent a few minutes Wednesday morning reflecting on the previous game on Saturday in which he established a career high with 24 points.
A few hours later, he established a new standard for himself, netting 25 for the Beavers in a resounding 108-78 victory over Central College in an American Rivers Conference men's basketball game at Siebens Fieldhouse.
Having back-to-back career nights says something for the senior business major, as he's appeared in 83 games for BVU, no small sample size.
Winkelman says he can't believe his playing career approaches its finish. He'll the be lone member of the men's team feted on Saturday as BVU hosts the University of Dubuque in a 4 p.m. Senior Day contest.
"I remember the upperclassmen telling me four years ago how quickly the time would fly by," says Winkelman, who turned 22 on Thursday. "I didn't believe them. Well, I didn't until this year. It's incredible to think how quickly it's gone by."
The son of Brad and Alison Winkelman was a senior at Marshall High School in Marshall, Minn., when he visited BVU for the first time. It was May of his senior year and his parents were worried he wasn't going to make a college commitment.
"My parents wanted me to make a decision," he says. "I had visited three other schools (all in Minnesota) and then I came here to look at BVU. The campus had a small-town feel to it, which is something I was looking for. I also liked the lake."
Winkelman met with then-coaches Brian Van Haaften and Jon Millea. He visited with Dr. Scott Anderson, professor of marketing. He dined with basketball players Kennedy Drey '17 and Nick Clark '16. All of them left positive impressions.
"I left here thinking there'd be a chance I go to BVU," he says.
He's grateful he did, although his experience wasn't without growing pains. For the first time in his life, Connor was away from home and away from his twin brother, Noah, who enrolled at South Dakota State University. There was also the adjustment of managing time for classes while tackling collegiate basketball, a sport that comes with the demands of weight training, practice and film study, a full plate for an 18-year-old.
"The guys on the team used to joke, telling me they never heard me say a word the first few months on campus," Winkelman says with a laugh. "The team took a trip to Florida in December of my freshman year. We went to Miami and some of my older teammates worked to make me feel comfortable. That's all it took."
He laughs and says, "And then they said I wouldn't shut up."
Winkelman's Beaver teams finished in the top three of the league standings in each of his first three years. After canning an eye-popping eight 3-pointers last Saturday at Nebraska-Wesleyan and following it up with five 3-pointers in a 25-point salvo in the win over Central, Winkelman is poised to finish at or near the top 20 in program history in long-range shooting and assists.
And while the Beavers aren't going to finish in the top three in league standings in the American Rivers Conference this year, Winkelman's leadership and production have the team making a late run at earning a berth in the loop tourney.
Coach Todd Lorensen, in his first year piloting the BVU program, has been impressed with the play of his senior point guard.
"Connor faced the difficult task of being our only senior through the transition of a coaching staff," Lorensen says. "I think it speaks a lot to his character how he has handled the highs and lows of the season as an individual and for our team. The experiences he had at BVU will translate very well to the real world and we are excited to see where his future takes him."
At the conclusion of this season, Winkelman will hang up his jersey for the last time and pick up his portfolio. The owner of a 3.3 grade-point average, Winkelman interned with Prudential in financial planning over the summer. That's the field he'd like to land in come May, perhaps in the Twin Cities.
As he looks back on his time at BVU, he'll remember basketball trips to Miami, Seattle, and Los Angeles, as well as lifelong friendships he made with teammates and fans who faithfully turn out to watch the Beavers.
He'll also remember some quiet times, namely the occasional late nights where he worked on his shooting form in the solitude of Siebens Fieldhouse, thankful for the opportunity and for the security personnel who were always incredibly kind and accommodating, even at a late hour.
He smiles at the memory and offers the story: "There was a Sunday night a couple of years ago. I hadn't shot very well that Saturday and I couldn't get to sleep. So, about midnight I walked over to Siebens Fieldhouse and the security guard met me, turned the lights on, and put the basket down for me. He couldn't have been nicer. Every time I see him on campus, I wave and smile and tell him, 'Hi.'"
The game-winning shots, Winkelman has realized, don't always happen before a gym full of screaming fans. Sometimes, they occur in the quiet, amid a lakeside campus community boasting that small-town allure.
"I wouldn't do anything different," Connor Winkelman says on the eve of his Senior Day. "I've loved it here."