Josh Gasser is your typical high school quarterback.
He’s 6-foot-4 and, thinking he was too skinny, set out to put on 15 pounds of muscle during the off-season – which he did. His coach says he is a dangerous runner and accurate passer, and like any fearless signal-caller, Gasser insists he doesn't concern himself with injuries.
Good thing, because when he isn’t quarterbacking his Port Washington (Wisconsin) high school team, Gasser is a Division I basketball prospect – one that Northwestern has been recruiting for a few years now.
Gasser devotes each fall to the gridiron. Always has. But after this season, he’ll hang up the cleats for good and devote four years to the hardwood.
“I’ve always been a quarterback and I’ve always been pretty good, so I can’t really quit playing now,” said Gasser, who talked with Purple Reign from the It Takes 5ive Classic hoops tourney in Cincinnati.
“Injuries don’t really cross my mind. Hopefully that won’t happen. I just want to finish my football career off. I really haven’t thought too much about dropping football. I wouldn’t mind playing basketball year-round, but I love football too.”
It’s not like playing football is necessarily a detriment to basketball. Actually, the 195-pound Gasser says that football has helped him with his hoops game.
Sure, he’s a guard, not a lane-clogging bully. And it was largely on the strength of his deft outside shooting touch – not his freakish athleticism – that he was named first-team All-State by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association as a junior and third-team All-State by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as a sophomore.
But Gasser, who averaged better than 22 points per game last season, isn’t afraid to mix it up down low. He has nabbed about 11 rebounds per contest each of the last two seasons, and unlike some sweet-shooting guards, he relishes forays inside the three-point arc.
He chalks up some of that physicality to football.
“I think (football) just makes me a lot tougher,” he said. “That’s what a lot of coaches like about me in basketball, my toughness.”
His basketball coach at Port Washington, John Bunyan, knows plenty about Gasser’s tough-streak.
“I guess the thing is Josh isn’t afraid of contact, and he’s not afraid to make a mistake,” said Bunyan, who was the football team’s offensive coordinator the last two seasons. “He’ll drive to the rim and put the ball up, and if it doesn’t go in, he’ll just go up there again. He’s a strong kid.”
Make no mistake: Gasser’s rep is as a shooter. He canned 31 percent of his three-pointers last season, and hit 84.5 percent of his free throws.
Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels is attending the It Takes 5ive tourney, and on Tuesday he wrote that Gasser “went off in the morning session for more than 20 points, including a bunch of threes,” adding that Gasser “showed off his pure stroke.”
But when asked to evaluate his play in Cincinnati thus far, Gasser didn’t talk about his shooting. No, the football player in him spoke up.
“I got fouled a lot and missed a lot of and-ones that I would liked to have made,” he said. “There were some shots I should have finished even with the contact.”
His hoops coach echoed those sentiments.
“He’s the type of kid who has a very good outside jump shot, but he doesn’t rely on that. He attacks the paint very well and gets to the rim. He doesn’t shy away from anything…. He’s probably not afraid of contact because, playing quarterback, I can tell you he’s taken some hits.”
According to Gasser, more and more schools are taking notice. While they haven’t yet offered, Virginia and Virginia Tech have recently started recruiting Gasser, as has Washington State. And those schools join the likes of Creighton, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and of course NU, which have all already offered scholarships.
Growing up in Wisconsin, Gasser says he has a soft spot in his heart for the Big Ten. But while more and more Big Ten schools are contacting Gasser – Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa have all shown interest – he says that he isn’t worried about garnering more offers.
“Northwestern’s offered me, and that’s good enough,” said Gasser, who took an unofficial visit to Evanston last spring. “So I’m not looking to get any more offers necessarily….
“It’s a good thing (Northwestern) has noticed for the past couple years and not just recently. I definitely like that a lot. Just that they’ve noticed me, they’ve stuck with me, and they’ve been interested. They saw me play my sophomore year and they showed interest and they never really stopped. I know that they want me and I like that.”
Football helps define Gasser’s hoops game, and it also may play a role in when he makes a commitment. The senior said that he would like to make a decision before the season – the football season – starts up in September. He may even decide this month.
“I kind of wouldn’t mind making it before football,” he said, “but I’m perfectly fine waiting.”
Whatever and whenever he decides, Gasser will take a hiatus from basketball to play some quarterback this fall. And after that it will be back to hoops, for good.
But don’t expect that football mentality to go anywhere.