Kristian Sjolund’s interest in basketball began at an early age because of a family connection to the sport. He said he remembers watching his dad, Bjorn Sjolund, play professional basketball in Norway as a kid.
His father’s success in the Basketball League of Norway, BLNO, and on Florida Atlantic’s collegiate team inspired him to pursue the sport for himself.
Now a freshman at Georgia Tech, Sjolund started his collegiate basketball career with an important decision — to not redshirt and save a season of NCAA eligibility.
“We looked at it a little bit, but decided not to do it because kind of to get experience on the court,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s one minute, 20 minutes, 30 minutes. Just getting the experience with the team in general.”
Sjolund has recorded stats in eight of the Yellow Jackets’ 16 games and played for a total of 43 minutes. He has scored five points, from one 3-point shot and two free throws.
Coach Josh Pastner described this season for Sjolund as a developmental one. He said while Sjolund possesses the skills of a talented player, he needs to adjust to the speed of collegiate basketball and the demands of the game on defense.
When the decision about redshirting arises, for any of his players, Pastner said he is upfront with his players how he sees the season in terms of playing time for the athlete. Pastner had that same conversation with Sjolund.
“I told Kristian (Sjolund) ahead of time where he stood for this year, you weren’t going to be initially in the rotations, it’s going to be hard for you, maybe there is a time later on where you end up playing more,” Pastner said. “But this year it’s going to be more of a developmental year. So he understood that, and he knew that. He didn’t want to redshirt, and I respected that.”
Because of Sjolund’s decision not to redshirt, Pastner said if there is time to put him in during a game, he will. One of those opportunities came against Virginia Tech on Wednesday. In the final seconds of the first half, Sjolund was on the court to help space the floor, Pastner said, in an effort to shoot before the buzzer. The Yellow Jackets, however, turned over the ball on the possession to the Hokies.
Although Sjolund is not playing an ample amount of minutes, he still recognizes his job for the team. He wants to fully transition into collegiate basketball and work to get stronger and used to the workout regimen. He understands his current role on the team as bringing a positive attitude.
Sophomore guard Jose Alvarado said he has seen Sjolund continue to develop since he stepped foot on campus, both in his physical nature and in his confidence of his game.
“Believe it or not, he’s a pretty good voice on our team,” Alvarado said. “He keeps it straight up, and tells us when we need to get our act up straight.”
Sjolund built his leadership skills when he played basketball in Norway. He moved to Norway at the age of 2 and moved and back to the Houston area 11 years later. He said he stayed in Houston for seventh and eighth grade, then returned to Norway for year, and moved back to Houston and played high school basketball. The opportunities to experience different basketball cultures he said helped to grow his abilities on and off the court.
He remembers playing on a little hoop in his living room as a young child, and playing on his first organized basketball team at the age of nine in Norway with his dad as the coach. These memories remind him of his introduction to the game and turn his focus to continually improve his skills on a daily basis.
Pastner sees those skills continuing to develop, and understands the type of player he has on his team with Sjolund. Over his four years, Pastner said Sjolund will develop into a strong member of the Jackets.
“I’m very high on Kristian, it’s just going to be a four-year process,” Pastner said. “He’s going to take all four full years to maximize all of his abilities, and he’s got a chance to be a really good player for us.”