Student Manager Makes Big Impact on UMD Men’s Basketball Team
Jonah Plys is in his first season as manager for the Bulldogs and is making an impact that goes far beyond what happens on the court each night.
DULUTH, Minn. – Minnesota Duluth men’s basketball manager Jonah Plys is just like every other guy on the team.
“Basketball is my favorite sport,” Plys said.
“Jonah’s J-Man, he’s part of the program, he’s a Bulldog, he’s one of us, he’s a friend to these guys and not just as a student manager, he’s a friend and I think that’s really important to know that he’s welcome. He’s one of us for sure,” UMD assistant coach Casey Bruggeman said.
Plys was born with Down syndrome but he hasn’t let that stop him from being part of the game he loves. While at Duluth East High School, Plys joined the boys basketball squad as team manager.
“It was probably the time that he was a sophomore at East high school where Jonah spent a lot of time with our basketball program, at practices, in games specifically. His impact on the group, I always felt positively influenced our whole basketball program. For us, the thing that we loved about him was just how energetic, how positive, and how much he thinks about others,” Duluth East boys basketball head coach Rhett McDonald said.
After he finished up at Duluth East, a chance meeting over the summer led Plys to his next opportunity.
“I first met Coach Casey [Bruggeman] at Canal Park and I had a UMD shirt on and he met my high school coach and got connected,” Plys said.
“We just started talking and I told Laura his mom that if there’d ever be an opportunity where he wanted to come help out with us, we’d love to have him,” Bruggeman said of the meeting.
Since then, Plys attends practices and home games and has become a huge part of the Bulldogs this season.
“He’s great at encouraging our guys to play hard and play together, share the ball and ultimately make shots, he likes when that happens. He’ll text us after each road trip and give us encouragement for the next day so it’s been really cool to see him integrated and be one of us,” Bruggeman added.
And throughout the season, Plys has found himself on the court.
“We have this drill the day before games and we all shoot free throws and once we get to 99, he’s the guy that makes the last free throw to get us to 100 to win the game and he always finds a lot of joy in that, we all cheer and give him high fives after,” senior guard Trevor Entwisle said.
And at every home UMD game, Plys spends halftime taking half court shots.
“It feels really fun to make half court shots, I’ve made 24 total,” Plys said.
“That’s something for sure that Jonah’s famous for is his half court shots. He always get the crowd riled up at halftime here,” Entwisle added.
Plys also has aspirations to become a coach someday and is taking in every opportunity to learn from the UMD coaches.
“Learning different stuff from the coaches. I want to find a job as a head coach and do what I’m doing right now,” Plys said.
“He’s told us multiple times how his goal is to be a head coach, assistant coach, so continuing to teach him anything about the game and he loves being involved in any facet,” Bruggeman said.
But the impact on both the team and on Plys goes far beyond what happens on the court.
“Sometimes you get caught up in the moment of being a college basketball player so to have an interaction with Jonah and to see his smile on his face when he walks in the gym, you know that it’s the highlight of his day to come in and interact with us. He just brings a different kind of joy to our team. If kids are feeling down or maybe you aren’t having your best practice, I don’t know what it is but he just senses that and comes up and says something to you, makes you laugh and just makes you appreciate being here,” Entwisle said.
“It’s just nice to realize that it’s all bigger than basketball to us. At the beginning, I don’t think we realized how much of an impact we made on him. But seeing him every day and how happy he makes us, it goes both ways and it just means so much,” freshman guard Charles Gorres added.
“It’s about relationships and it’s about caring for the people that you’re around and ultimately having those people for the rest of your life. I think he just gives me a great reminder to be appreciative of the opportunity you have on this earth. It’s kind of crazy how life works sometimes, just the people you meet. Kind of feel like it was meant to happen in some sort,” Bruggeman said.
And as the season winds down, Plys is just enjoying his time being a Bulldog.
“It feels amazing to be part of the team. I feel blessed to be here,” Plys said.