Kari Jonsson, #10, carries the ball against Montenegro in the 2016 Division B U20 European Championships (Fiba.com)
In some families, sports are banned at the dinner table. It’s when the family convenes, discusses their day, and have conversations in common. In the Jonsson family, that’s not the case.
It’s actually the opposite. Dinner is strictly dominated by basketball. Everyone in the family loves basketball, from the youngest, Drexel's freshman Kari Jonsson, all the way up to his mother.
“That’s a typical night,” Jonsson chuckled, when asked about basketball at the dinner table.
It’s not a surprise. The 6-foot-3, 170 pound guard grew up in a basketball family. His dad, Jon Ingvarsson, was a star basketball player. He earned himself a contract in Belgium’s professional basketball league for a season, but couldn’t stay long, as Jonsson’s mother was pregnant with him. Ingvarsson returned to his native land of Iceland, where he continued his career unconventionally.
“He was a player-coach at first,” said Jonsson. “But when he got older, he stopped playing and just started to coach.”
When he wasn’t coaching on the sideline, he was either working his day job in marketing or playing point guard in the Dominos League, Iceland's top division, dishing out tons of assists. According to Jonsson, Ingvarsson still ranks second in assists in the league. One Icelandic news source, sport.moi.is, called Ingvarsson “one of the best playmakers that Iceland has ever given birth to.”
Now, however, Jonsson’s father is just committed to coaching. Along with working many years as a head coach in the Dominos League, he has helped Jonsson hone the skills it takes to be a point guard and a strong basketball player.
Growing up in Flensborg, Iceland, just 10 minutes away from Iceland's capital, Reykjavík, Jonsson thrived in the youth basketball system. Like every kid in Iceland though, he first fell for soccer. It was either going to be that or team handball, the two most popular sports in the country.
“I played soccer for a little bit when I was young because all of my friends played,” Jonsson noted. “Most Icelandic people have, at some point, tried to play soccer.”
But it was in Jonsson’s blood to play basketball. In Iceland, Jonsson thrived playing with club teams. He quickly climbed the ranks of young Icelandic basketball players, earning himself the opportunity to play in the Dominos League. By the age of 15, Jonsson joined Haukar Basketball Club’s top division team.
Jonsson, far right, in 2012, at the Copenhagen Invitational. (Copenhagen Invitational)
“[I started by playing] with guys [my] own age,” Jonsson remembered. “Then I played with guys one or two years older than me. [After that], the coaches on the senior team invited me to practices with them.”
Despite seriously playing basketball, Jonsson was still able to handle the rigorous schoolwork he had in his high school. His afternoons were often spent studying, while at night, he would have practices and sometimes games.
“I don’t see any problems with it,” Jonsson said of playing in such a high caliber league at a young age. “I was still doing school work. I was still living the normal life.”
The competition, he said, was strong. Playing against 12 teams comprised of grown men never phased Jonsson though. As a scrawny sophomore in high school, Jonsson played 20 minutes per game, averaging 8 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists, while notching a season high point total of 28 points in the top division.
The next year, his minutes increased. He played 33 minutes a night in his second year with Haukar, averaging 15 points per game, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. He improved in almost every category including almost tallying 2 steals per game.
With two years under his belt, Jonsson thrived in his final season in Iceland’s top league, averaging 17 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. In 22 games, Jonsson only had three games with less than 10 points, earning himself the title of “best young player” in the league. In turn, he helped lead Hauker to their first championship game in Jonsson’s time there.
He didn’t just play for his club though. Jonsson thrived representing his country, helping Iceland place second in the Division B U20 European Championships. The young guard averaged 17 points per game, including a 29 point outburst against Greece, earning himself First Team All-Tournament honors.
It was enough to earn him a trip from Drexel assistant coach Rob O'Driscoll. The first year coach at Drexel knew an American player, Brenton Birmingham, who had played in Iceland for a number of years. O’Driscoll began contacting Jonsson and eventually came to one of his playoff games.
“[After that], I came for an official visit,” Jonsson said. “I liked how everything was. I liked the coaching staff, I liked the group of guys. I liked how the game style would be.”
Jonsson didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t really even know about Drexel.
“I knew it was a division one college,” he remembered, “but I didn’t really know what the situation was.”
William and Mary, Delaware, and New Hampshire all came calling as well, but it was Drexel that finally won him over.
“I liked the system they were going to play,” Jonsson said. “I saw myself [at Drexel] pretty early...I liked the campus.”
The transition hasn’t been too hard as well. Coming from Iceland, which has 323,000 people as a country, to Philadelphia, which has 1.5 million people in the city alone, has been a good experience.
While he’s adjusting to the city pretty well, Jonsson is still getting a sense of the fast pace that new head coach Zach Spiker wants them to run at.
“[I didn’t expect] the pace of practice,” he said. “We are going to play fast. That is something I like to do though. It will be exciting.”
On the other hand however, Jonsson will not be able to have the same basketball centered conversations with his family at dinner every night like he’s used to. While his parents will be coming to see him play for the opening week of the Drexel regular season, Jonsson will need to have dinner with his new Drexel teammates now. But unlike in Iceland, it won’t be over the fantastic meats or fish. It just may have to be over a couple cheesesteaks.
“I like them,” Jonsson said, laughing, about his newfound taste for cheesesteaks. “They’re very good.”
-Drexel loses to Charleston in the quarterfinal of the CAA tournament