CHEYENNE – Adaptability might be David Appelgren’s greatest strength as a basketball player.
It has helped him stand out more than any shot he has made or rebound he has corralled. It has also helped him turn more heads than his 7-foot-1 height.
Adaptability has transformed the Laramie County Community College freshman from a prep-schooler with few college options to a player Power 5 schools have shown interest in.
“His ceiling has gotten pretty high,” Golden Eagles coach Jason Ficca said.
Appelgren – who hails from Stockholm, Sweden – came to the United States in 2017 to attend National Top Sports Institute in Orlando. Unsatisfied with the college offers he had when NTSI’s season ended in March 2018, Appelgren moved to Athens, Tennessee, so he could play with Believe Prep.
Former Believe standout Zaire Mateen spent last season at LCCC before jumping to NCAA Division I Northern Illinois. Believe’s coaches were impressed by what Ficca and assistant DeWayne Saulsberry had done for Mateen, so they called Ficca to tell him about Appelgren.
“It didn’t take me long after we got off the phone for me to call them back and tell them I’d gladly take (Appelgren),” Ficca said.
Appelgren’s size got Ficca’s attention, but it was Appelgren’s solid skill set and ability to be a force on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court that excited him the most.
“All of the things you can’t teach are things he is good at,” Ficca said. “He has good feet and good hands. He is 7-1. He has good ball skills and shoots it pretty well.
“The things he is weak at – like his strength – are things you can teach or coach.”
Appelgren is averaging 9.7 points per game entering Wednesday night’s game at Western Wyoming. His scoring average is fourth-best on the LCCC roster.
He has grabbed a team-best 7.4 rebounds per game, and is averaging 3.7 blocks per outing. Appelgren’s blocks average and 97 blocks are both second among all players in the National Junior College Athletic Association.
“I came here hoping to develop, and I was fortunate (Ficca) let me play from the start,” Appelgren said. “He has used me the way a coach should use a big man. He has me protecting the rim on the defensive end, doing post moves and also shooting the ball.
“Things have been going pretty well here.”
Appelgren got a taste of the speed and physicality of the American style of play during his two prep school stops. He had to adjust to them all over again when he arrived at LCCC.
“Coach told me every day in practice that I was going to get pushed around if I didn’t start playing lower,” he said.
“I told him I was playing a lot lower than I used to, but that still wasn’t low enough.
“I figured out what he meant when we played in our two preseason tournaments. I got pounded pretty good. It was kind of a shock.”
Appelgren adapted to the style of play, and stood out immediately.
In Ficca’s mind, using preseason scrimmages to adjust to the physicality of college basketball isn’t even the best illustration of Appelgren’s adaptability. That can be seen by looking at his stat line from meetings with No. 10-ranked Casper College.
Appelgren scored just five points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked three shots in the Golden Eagles’ Jan. 12 loss to Casper. He scored 12 points, grabbed 13 boards and blocked seven shots in a Feb. 2 loss at Casper.
“The first time we played Casper, he hadn’t seen a team with that many big, fast, strong big men, and he wasn’t very effective,” Ficca said. “We played Casper again and, even though we lost, he controlled the game.
“He experiences new things, makes adjustments and grows.”
Appelgren has scholarship offers from several mid-major Division I programs. A handful of schools from Power 5 conferences have shown interest in him, though none have offered – yet.
“If I have the right offer when our season is done, I’ll take it,” Appelgren said. “If I can’t find the right fit, I won’t have any problem coming back here for another season.
“It all depends on what schools offer me. I want to play somewhere that knows how to play with a big man. School is also important to me because I take that seriously.”
Appelgren would prefer a school on the East Coast so he doesn’t have to spend as long with his lanky frame coiled into the seat of a jumbo jet when he flies home.
“Plane rides are awful, even if I am lucky enough to get the exit row,” he said with a laugh.
Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.