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Wonders… a ‘generational’ type player

(Daryl T. Jarvinen photo) Iron Mountain's Foster Wonders (00) soars above Negaunee's Jackson Gladwell (3) for a rebound in a West PAC and Mid Peninsula Conference game on March 4 at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee.

IRON MOUNTAIN — Once in a generation players don’t come around very often in any sport. The type of player who can completely take over a game, and has more to do with the outcome than most of the other players on the floor, or field, at the end of a close game.

Foster Wonders of Iron Mountain is one of those basketball players, without a doubt. The 6-foot-5-inch future Southern Illinois Saluki shattered the U.P. all-time scoring record, by 108 points, doing so in Iron Mountain’s MHSAA Division 3 Regional championship win over Oscoda at Sault Ste. Marie on April 1.

Wonders, who was a four-year starter for IM head coach Harvey “Bucky” Johnson, ended his stellar career with 2,286 points, with 1,271 of them coming in two coronavirus- shortened seasons in 2019-20 (603) and 2020-21 (668). Wonders’ point total puts him in 13th place on the MHSAA all-time boys scoring list.

Coincidentally, the former U.P. all-time scoring leader is a lifelong friend of Wonders — Gage Kreski of St. Ignace. Kreski, who has family in Homestead, Wis, grew up as a friend to Wonders’ because their mothers, Julie (Heldt) Wonders and Deanna (Sutton) Kreski played basketball together at Northern Michigan University in the 1990s.

“Breaking a career record like that, it’s about hard work paying off,” said Kreski in a phone interview on Thursday. “Nobody works harder at their game than Foster, and he definitely earned it, he’s a great player. I was happy for him when he broke my record.”

Foster Wonders stands between his parents Matt and Julie Wonders, holding his framed No. 00 jersey. Iron Mountain High School officially retired Wonders’ number as of May 26, becoming the first Mountaineers athlete in any sport in school history to receive such an honor.

For Kreski, seeing his friend accomplish something he did and get to experience how it feels to do so, was special. “It’s OK that I only held the record a few years,” Kreski said. “Foster is my friend, I look forward to seeing what he can do at Southern Illinois.”

Kreski, who scored 2,178 points at St. Ignace LaSalle from 2013-2016, will use his final year of eligibility at Central Michigan University as a starting defensive back on the football team.

Another record Wonders broke during the 2021 season was the Iron Mountain High School career scoring record. Wonders’ former teammate Marcus Johnson held the record with 2,076 career points as a four-year starter for the Mountaineers.

Wonders broke the IM school record March 11 at Westwood High School, needing 16 points to surpass Johnson, Wonders finished the game with 35.

Becoming the U.P.’s all-time leading scorer wasn’t a goal Wonders had in mind, but once he accomplished it, he was proud to have done it.

“I wanted the team to have as much success as possible going into the season. I knew that the school and U.P. records were a possibility,” Wonders said in a recent FaceTime interview. “But my focus was on our team having success, and the ending isn’t what we would have liked, but we can say we got back to the title game and worked hard to get there.”

Wonders, who had his first college offer from Northern Michigan University in eighth grade, had a baker’s dozen of Division I offers to chose from, deciding to go to SIU because it felt like the best fit for him. “I chose Southern Illinois because they play in such a strong basketball conference (Missouri Valley Conference),” Wonders said in an interview last July. “They have a spot for me right away, and the head coach has expressed a great deal of interest.”

SIU head coach Brian Mullens will likely capitalize on Wonders’ ability to score. In the 2021 season, Wonders hit the 40-point mark four times, with a career-high 45 points at Ishpeming on March 5.

In back-to-back home games on Feb. 16 versus Kingsford ,and Feb. 18 versus Ironwood, Wonders went for 42 and 40. In the 42-point barrage was against Twin City rival Kingsford, Wonders had 30 points in the first half alone.

Twenty-three of Wonders’ 40 points versus Ironwood came in the first quarter. On Feb. 7, 2020, he poured in 20 points in the first stanza versus Ishpeming.

After the Ishpeming game in Wonders’ junior season of 2020, then Hematites head coach George Niemi had an interesting take on how to prepare for playing against Wonders.

“I’m not sure we could have prepared any differently than if we were going to play a team where all five guys were bombing 3-pointers from the stands the whole game,” Niemi said.

The Mountaineers’ record in the 88 games Wonders played in his career is 83-5 with two Division 3 state runner-up finishes. Wonders was an All-U.P. Dream Team selection by the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association all four years at IM.

He was a three-time selection as Mr. U.P. Basketball — in 2019, 2020 and 2021, as well as Class ABC player of the year in those seasons.

This past season, Wonders was a “Best of the Best” selection by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan. That distinction goes to the best players in the state in all divisions.

Pierre Brooks II of MHSAA Division 4 state champion Detroit Douglass was named Mr. Basketball for the state of Michigan by BCAM, as Wonders finished second in the voting.

Brooks II, Lewis and Flint Beecher senior Keyon Menifield are a trio of the players who joined Wonders on the “Best of the Best” squad.

Wonders was on the “Best of the Best” team in 2020 as well.

Wonders finished third in the voting for Associated Press Division 3 player of the year behind Menifield and Julian Lewis of Ann Arbor Huron.

Veteran Detroit Free Press prep sports writer Mick McCabe named Wonders to the 2021 Free Press Dream Team. Legend Geeter of River Rouge, Brooks II, Ty Rodgers of Grand Blanc and Julian Roper of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s joined Wonders on the DFP Dream Team.

“Mick McCabe has been around for years and years, he covered my mom back in the day,” Wonders said. “He’s really respected. I always looked at the Free Press when I was a kid after the season, and I dreamt about getting on there. It’s one of the most rewarding accomplishments I’ve had, and I made a list with some other great players.”

In late May at the IMHS Senior Athletic Awards Banquet, athletic director Donny Bianco, in conjunction with the school’s administration and the IM Athletic Booster Club, surprised Wonders and his family when Bianco announced that Wonders’ number 00 became the first number retired by the Iron Mountain school in any sport.

“That honor means so much to me, because of all the work that I have put in, and I always had dreams of accomplishing big goals in my high school career,” Wonders said. “Now that I can look back on that and my whole career, I feel like all my hard work paid off. I know there’s been so many other great athletes at Iron Mountain over the years, it’s an honor for sure.”

For as great a player as Wonders is, and for as many things as he accomplished, he definitely earned every one of them. But there’s two things that truly sets him apart from everyone else — his determination to be the best he can be, and his humbleness.

Both of those qualities will most likely take him anywhere he wants to go, not only in athletics, but in life as well.

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