Basketball wasn’t quite yet life for 13-year-old Boden Skunberg in the spring of 2015.
At the time, Jamestown High School’s career leader in scoring and rebounding had no idea he was rubbing shoulders with future all-state teammates and fellow Mr. Basketball finalists. Skunberg was just a kid playing youth AAU tournament basketball coached by his father, Eric Skunberg, on a team that included Mandan’s Elijah Klein and Minot’s Jaxon Gunville.
Skunberg, Klein and Gunville were all selected to the Class A boys basketball all-state first team Wednesday, as voted on by members of the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Skunberg, one of two unanimous first-team selections along with Devils Lake senior forward Grant Nelson, joins former JHS basketball greats Don Brugman and Paul Anderson as back-to-back first-team honorees.
Fargo Davies senior forward Cameron Van Dam was also voted to the first team.
“Back then basketball wasn’t something we were really working hard for,” Skunberg said candidly. “We hadn’t really, like, developed a true love for the game yet. We were just playing because it was fun.”
That particular 13U North Dakota Phenom team also included Bismarck Shiloh Christian senior Jaden Mitzel, and all four young men -- along with Nelson -- are finalists for this year’s Mr. Basketball award, which will be announced Friday evening. Skunberg is in the running to possibly bring the state’s top senior basketball award to Jamestown for a second consecutive year after Jamestown’s Mason Walters became the second Blue Jay to receive the honor in its 35-year history.
“To just watch us grow up together and see that we’re all doing well is nice to see,” said Skunberg, Jamestown’s seventh Mr. Basketball finalist. “It’s pretty exciting.”
Skunberg will be remembered as one of the most awe-inspiring players to ever put on blue for JHS, and when the competition was at its strongest in 2019-20 Skunberg was at his best. In 10 games against the West Region’s top teams -- Bismarck, Minot, Mandan, Dickinson, Bismarck Legacy and Bismarck Century -- Skunberg’s per-game averages of 28.4 points and 11.1 rebounds crept up to 29.1 and 11.4, which must have driven opposing coaches nuts.
Teams, to no avail, consistently doubled and tripled the four-year starter since his sophomore season. Skunberg’s 1,732 points and 622 rebounds are JHS career records, which over the past three seasons helped lead to 60 wins, a state championship trophy and three consecutive appearances in the West Region tournament title game.
The Jays went 8-2 against the West’s best with Skunberg in the lineup in 2019-20, as he also averaged 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
“Boden is freakishly talented,” said JHS boys basketball coach Jacoby Lloyd. “It was pretty unique to see him actually rise and become better against better competition. He took it a step further and made himself a bigger asset for us.”
Lloyd stressed to not underestimate what Skunberg brought defensively. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound NCAA Division I talent guarded whoever Lloyd and the Jays needed him to defend, whether that meant a 6-9 center or a 5-11 point guard.
The Blue Jays topped 20 wins (21-4) for a second consecutive season after rolling to an undefeated (27-0) state championship in 2018-19. Jamestown’s 2019-20 season was cut short on March 13 prior to the Class A state tournament semifinals in Fargo due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The ability for him to match up and guard all those different positions just speaks to his athletic ability and his basketball IQ,” Lloyd said. “I think he really took his game to another level rebounding and defensively this year that we hadn’t seen. He really embraced the challenge of being the leader and being a defensive stud for us.”
But injuries and sickness took its toll on Skunberg as a senior. Committed to play basketball next winter at North Dakota State University, Skunberg broke his shooting-hand pinky on Feb. 20 and missed Jamestown’s final seven games. He also missed a pair of games in December due to falling ill.
If one were to factor in those nine contests -- and Jamestown’s final two state tournament games that are technically in limbo pending a final decision by the North Dakota High School Activities Association to either resume or cancel the tournament -- and Skunberg’s final career numbers balloon to a projected 2,045 points and nearly 750 rebounds.
It would have marked just the third 2,000-point career in Class A boys history according to records kept by The Hoopster, ahead of the likes of Fargo Shanley’s AJ Jacobson (2,002) and Valley City’s Jeff Boschee (1,994). Skunberg’s final tally stands seventh all-time, and he also holds school records in single-season scoring (637), single-season scoring average (28.4) and single-game scoring (49).
Skunberg did lead Class A in scoring average this season, as well as leading the West in rebounding average.
“If you just start multiplying and adding all the totals up and what it could’ve been … he could’ve been pushing 2,000 points, which in Class A is remarkable,” Lloyd said. “He’s had the ability because of his talent and his skill level to be able to push those records and get somewhere that’s pretty astounding.”
Skunberg said the injury in practice was a freak accident. But basketball will continue with the Bison.
“It’s so hard to explain it was such a fluke. I just reached out and bumped someone,” Skunberg said. “You just heard a pop and I thought it was just sprained or I jammed it.
“There’s nothing you can really do about it so you just have to try and look past it and forget about it,” he added. “Injuries happen and sickness happens, so you can’t really dwell on it.”
But a silver lining was watching the Blue Jays battle in the postseason. Following three overtime games and two victories at the West Region tournament in Bismarck, Jamestown defeated future Bison teammate Nelson and Devils Lake, 71-54, in the state tournament quarterfinals on March 12.
Just like youth competition back before high school, basketball was still fun.
“We’d been practicing and competing all year,” Skunberg said. “It’s just fun to see all your teammates and brothers succeed.”
Class A Boys Basketball
*Boden Skunberg, 6-5 senior guard, Jamestown: 28.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.6 spg. (NDSU BB commit)
*Grant Nelson, 6-9 senior forward, Devils Lake: 24.6 ppg, 18.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.1 spg, 5.7 bpg. (NDSU BB commit)
Elijah Klein, 6-7 senior forward, Mandan: 19.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.4 bpg. (UND FB commit)
Jaxon Gunville, 6-1 senior guard, Minot: 25.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.2 spg. (Minot St. BB commit)
Cameron Van Dam, 6-7 senior forward, Fargo Davies: 14.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.6 spg, 1.7 bpg. (St. John's-Minn. BB commit)
Cade Feeney, 6-0 senior guard, Bismarck Century: 21.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.5 spg.
Kobe Krenz, 5-11 senior guard, Dickinson: 23.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.6 spg.
Cayden Rickard, 6-1 senior guard, Fargo North: 21.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.3 apg, 3.3 spg.
Blake Berg, 6-4 senior guard, West Fargo Sheyenne: 15.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.9 apg, 2.3 spg.
Jaiden Wright, 6-1 senior guard, Dickinson: 18.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.5 spg.
Jamestown High School Boys Basketball All-State Players
Doug Beaudoin 1970-71.
Dale Krueger 1970-71.
John Weir 1973-74.
Don Brugman, 1977-78 & '76-77.
Paul Anderson, 1979-80 & '78-79.
Scott Bieri, 1981-82.
Darin Jensen, 1985-86 (Mr. BB finalist).
Bryan Flam, 1986-87 (Mr. BB winner).
Steve Koenig, 1987-88 (Mr. BB finalist).
John Ruff, 1990-91 (Mr. BB finalist).
Mason Walters, 2018-19 (Mr. BB winner).
Boden Skunberg, 2018-19 & '19-20 (Mr. BB finalist).
Bob Gunderson 1979-1980.
Darin Jensen 1984-85.
Shawn Knutson 1988-89.
Jesse Isaak 1993-94.
Justin Cross 2000-01 & ‘99-00.
Landon Rachel 2007-08.
Noah Wanzek 2015-16 &'14-15 (Mr. BB finalist).
Mason Walters 2017-18.