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Davidson’s Jon Axel Gudmundsson gets valuable experience in FIBA qualifiers

The junior will be a key piece for yet another competitive Wildcats’ team in 2018-19.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Davidson vs Kentucky Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Last we saw Jon Axel Gudmundsson, his three-point barrage was keeping Davidson in its tight first round NCAA Tournament loss to Kentucky. It didn’t take long for the rising junior guard to get back into a high leverage basketball game.

Gudmundsson went overseas to play for his native Iceland in its final two 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers. The 21 year old was popped right into the rotation, playing 17 productive minutes (6 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist) in a close loss to Bulgaria on June 29. He then got 22 minutes (7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) in a 14-point loss on July 2 to a Finland team that featured Lauri Markannen and Euro league stalwart Petteri Koponen.

Dropping both games knocked Iceland out of World Cup qualifying, but the experience may still be a win for Davidson. Gudmundsson is one of the latest players to emerge from the constant flow of McKillop’s international recruiting pipeline.

“Until [Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski] took over USA Basketball, Bob was the most well-known American college coach in Europe,” says Fran Fraschilla, the former head coach at Manhattan, St. John’s and New Mexico who now tracks international basketball closely for ESPN. “He’s the first guy that I can think of who made it a huge part of his recruiting. He built a great niche, and that allowed him to recruit a better level of player than he could have gotten if he only recruited Charlotte, Washington D.C. and New York City.”

Those connections put Gudmundsson on his radar, as the guard had moved to Philadelphia for high school but returned to Iceland during his junior year. Coming in as an unknown prospect, Gudmundsson turned in a solid freshman year (8.2 PPG. 4.0 RPG, 3.5 APG) in a back court dominated by then-senior Jack Gibbs.

With Gibbs gone last season, Peyton Aldridge took on more of the offense in what ended up being a co-A-10 Player of the Year campaign. He and breakout freshman Kellan Grady were the leaders on a team that pushed league favorites Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure throughout the year, and won the A-10 tournament.

Aldridge is out of eligibility, leaving Grady (18.0 PPG, 37.2% 3FG) as the next in McKillop’s seemingly never-ending run of stars. But Gudmundsson is an equally important piece on a Davidson team that should challenge for a league title in a wide-open A-10. He had a tremendous season (13.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.1 APG) that got overshadowed alongside Aldridge’s scoring and Grady’s emergence.

After being challenged by McKillop, he continued to develop into one of the best rebounding guards in the country, all while handling point guard duty in the country’s 16th-most efficient offense. He also became a reliable long range threat (40.6 3FG%), as the country saw firsthand in the NCAA Tournament.

Down 10 to Kentucky at halftime, Gudmundsson dropped in a trio of three-pointers before the first media timeout of the second half, and six total before the game was over. His 21 points were three off his career high as he led a Davidson surge that almost led to an upset.

Three months later in Botevgrad, Bulgaria, with a different set of teammates, he played more of a supporting role. Yet he was back in a high stakes environment, as Iceland and Bulgaria scrapped to emerge from the group stage in a must-win game for both teams. Days later, he was in another must-win game for both teams against Finland and a rising NBA star in Markannen.

That experience can only help as Gudmundsson gets set for a pivotal year at Davidson.