‘We’re not a Cinderella’: Meet Jack Gohlke, the Oakland guard who galvanized the Golden Grizzlies to famous win over Kentucky

March Madness is a time when stars become superstars and when the unheralded transform themselves into cult heroes.

And while we’re only a few days into this year’s edition of the men’s March Madness, the tournament already seems to have 2024’s unannounced sensation: Jack Gohlke.

The 24-year-old Gohlke produced a remarkable shooting display to catalyze No. 14-seeded Oakland University to a famous 80-76 victory over No. 3 seed Kentucky on Thursday.

Gohlke’s 32 points, which primarily came from deep, connecting on 10 three pointers, tied for the second most in an NCAA tournament game, helped spark Oakland’s memorable first-round victory. That victory ensured the southeastern Michigan school advanced to the second round for the first time in its history.

The magnitude of the victory cannot be understated: Oakland has little pedigree compared to Kentucky, a college basketball juggernaut with a long track history of producing NBA talent and the second-most national championships in history (eight).

But like Gohlke’s confident shooting display on Thursday night, the guard is bullish about his team’s ability to stand up to the biggest programs in college basketball.

“I know [the Kentucky Wildcats] have draft picks and I know I’m not going to the NBA, but I know, on any given night, I can compete with those guys and our team can compete with those type of guys,” Gohlke told reporters after Oakland’s win over the Wildcats.

“That’s why I was so confident going into it. And that’s why I said we’re not a Cinderella because, when we play our A-game, we can be the best team on the floor.”

‘We came in as an underdog, but we believe in ourselves’

Born in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, Gohlke spent the first few seasons of his collegiate career with Division II Hillsdale College in Michigan before transferring to Oakland University before the start of this season.

And the guard has chosen his area of basketball to focus on and mastered the art of shooting from deep.

Over the course of the season, he appeared in 31 regular season games and three games in the Horizon League Tournament for the Golden Grizzlies. Before taking on Kentucky, he attempted 335 field goals, 327 of which were from behind the three-point line.

Gohlke shot 37% from beyond the arc and continued that form in Oakland’s March Madness opener.

His 20 three-point attempts on Thursday night were more than double the number of two-point shots he took all season. And by connecting on 50% of those, Oakland rode his red-hot performance to a famous victory.

It all culminated in his lights-out performance against Kentucky in which he continuously dissected the Wildcats defense with his three-point shooting, consistently moving around the court and shooting from different spots in an electric display.

Gohlke shoots against Kentucky Wildcats guard Reed Sheppard. - Joe Sargent/Getty Images
Gohlke shoots against Kentucky Wildcats guard Reed Sheppard. - Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The skillset he displayed on Thursday came from a place of confidence, according to Gohlke.

“I think they all believed,” Gohlke said of his teammates, “but I think I was the one that was most confident. I was trying to tell them: ‘Hey guys, we belong here. This is the moment we’ve all worked so hard for this season and our whole basketball careers.’

“I’ve just worked so hard to get to this point, I’m not going into any game thinking I’m going to lose. As a shooter, you can’t let that doubt start to creep in. That’s when it’s going to become a problem.”

The victory was made even more momentous by the fact that it was Oakland’s first ever NCAA tournament victory and Kentucky already had 132 of those to their name.

But while Gohlke’s name might not have been known to the wider basketball community until now, some of his teammates are not surprised by his display.

“He knows what he’s done, what he’s put in the last five years.” Blake Lampman, Oakland’s junior guard, said. “You score 32 and you beat Kentucky on the first day of the NCAA Tournament on CBS at 7:10. Yeah, you’re going to be the hottest name.”

Gohlke will have to keep up his hot shooting if Oakland is to continue its March Madness run; the Golden Grizzlies will face the winner of No. 6 seed Texas Tech and 11-seed North Carolina State on Saturday.

But for Gohlke himself, he doesn’t mind being the underdog.

“I don’t like the David and Goliath thing,” Gohlke said. “Obviously, Kentucky is a tremendous team and we came in as an underdog, but we believe in ourselves, and obviously now, the country believes in us.”

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