How Oakland’s Jack Gohlke went from D-II Hillsdale College transfer to 2024 March Madness hero

Jack Gohlke and the Oakland Golden Grizzlies were just another team on the March Madness rundown when play began Thursday. But when they face No. 11 NC State on Saturday, they will be among the most popular underdogs in the country.

Oakland stunned No. 3 Kentucky in the first round, providing the first major thrill of the 2024 NCAA Tournament. That victory wouldn’t have been possible without Gohlke’s 32 points, which came on the strength of remarkable 10-of-20 shooting from the field — entirely from 3-point range.

Basketball fans who have perused the Division I stat leaders have likely at least seen Gohlke’s name in passing. Only Hofstra’s Tyler Thomas (10.2) averaged more 3-point attempts per game than Gohlke (9.9). Thomas (3.8) was also the only player who averaged more made 3s per game than Gohlke (3.7).

Still, the 24-year-old was hardly a household name before his 32-point performance against blue-blood Kentucky. And it’s likely few know much about his path from a Division II college in Michigan from being a star on college basketball’s biggest stage.

How did Gohlke go from Division II Hillsdale College to star of Oakland’s Cinderella squad? Here’s what you need to know.

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How Jack Gohlke went from Hillsdale College to Oakland

When 247Sports Composite Rankings unveiled their final NCAA prospect rankings for the state of Wisconsin in 2018, there was Kentucky commit Tyler Herro at the top. Future Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton ranked fourth on the list. Two-star Jordan Dinsmore ranked eighth.

Not on the list? That would be Pewaukee High guard Jack Gohlke. He did not have a 247Sports page. He was not a top prospect.

Still, Gohlke was much the same shooter in high school as he is now. In his final game, a WIAA Sectional Final loss to Milwaukee Washington, Gohlke had 19 points. Those points came on 5-of-16 shooting from 3-point range and 4-of-6 from the free-throw line. He went 0-for-2 on non-3-pointers.

Gohlke wound up committing to Hillsdale College, a Division II basketball program in Hillsdale, Michigan. The Chargers are part of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.

MORE: Everything to know about Gohlke

“Once I got to Hillsdale, the Division II level, I was very focused on just being the best Hillsdale player I could be because I didn’t know I was going to have extra eligibility or anything like that,” Gohlke said after Thursday’s win against Kentucky. “So when I was in the gym, I was focused on big moments in the Division II tournament. And luckily I was able to do that with my teammates at Hillsdale. Shout out to them.”

He did not play in his true freshman season, 2018-19, instead taking a redshirt with the Chargers. The following year, Gohlke began as a bench player, at which point he appeared in 16 games, averaging 4.6 minutes per game. He attempted 30 field goals and made six. Of those, 27 were from 3-point range and four were successful. 

That season was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Hillsdale was headed to the Division II tournament, the games wound up being canceled.

As a redshirt sophomore, Gohlke saw steadily more playing time but was still a bench player. He appeared in 24 games but received no starts. And again, nearly all his points came from beyond the arc — he shot 13-of-41 from 3, 5-of-9 from 2. The Chargers reached the Division II tournament, but Gohlke’s time in it was limited as he logged just eight minutes between his teams’ two games.

He took a major step forward in playing time in 2021-22. He started 16 games in 31 total appearances and averaged 22.2 minutes per game. Gohlke diversified his scoring, though he was still overwhelming a threat from deep, as 69 of his 105 total makes came from beyond the arc. He shot 69-of-169 from 3-point range and averaged 9.6 points per game.

Gohlke was cemented in the starting rotation by the time the Chargers returned to the Division II tournament. He started all four games and was one of just two players to reach double digits in each contest. He averaged 14.5 points per tournament game, including scoring 21 points against No. 2 Ferris State in the regional semifinal. Hillsdale was ultimately eliminated in the Elite Eight by No. 2 Indiana (Pa.).

MORE: Everything to know about Greg Kampe, Oakland head coach

It was his final year at Hillsdale that was his chance to be the star of the show. Gohlke started all 30 games, averaging 14.2 points, 29.7 minutes, 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as a redshirt senior. He made 98 of 245 shots from 3-point range and was 144 of 325 overall, good for a 40 percent 3-point shooting percentage and 44.3 percent field-goal percentage. 

Hillsdale’s tournament run was short in 2023. The Chargers were eliminated in their first game by Northern Michigan despite 23 points from Gohlke. After the season, Gohlke decided to transfer.

Gohlke had his accounting undergraduate degree with Hillsdale and opted to pursue a master’s degree in business with the extra year granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Hillsdale did not have a master’s in business, meaning he would need to look elsewhere.

When it came time to leave, he said he was almost asking permission from Hillsdale even though he knew they wouldn’t say no and described them as being “very gracious” about his leaving.

“I loved my time at Hillsdale. It was amazing, five amazing years. Obviously different than this,” Gohlke said Friday. “This is really awesome, too. But I made some tremendous relationships with the coaches and players, some of my best friends. So I can’t say enough good things about them.

“I knew I wanted to do [business] in my future, and I knew I wanted to keep playing basketball and challenge myself at the next level. So it made too much sense not to try to jump up to Division I here, and everything has worked out pretty well so far.”

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