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Brandon Motzel

Augustana senior Brandon Motzel, right, is averaging 9.4 rebounds per game since entering the starting lineup at the start of CCIW play. He scored a career-high 17 points in his last game Saturday against Carthage.

Brandon Motzel did more than work on his game last summer.

The Augustana senior whose defense and rebounding have helped set a tone for the third-ranked Vikings since he moved into the starting lineup earlier this month tested his skills against players from Rice University in pick-up games while participating in an internship in Houston.

But basketball wasn’t the only thing on the 6-foot-7 forward’s mind during his two-month stay in Texas.

A pre-medicine and physics major who plans to attend med school after graduation from Augustana this spring, Motzel interned at the Texas Medical Center’s Baylor College of Medicine.

“It was an eye-opening experience,’’ he said. “There is a lot of exceptional research being done there and to have a chance to be a part of it and learn from it was an incredible opportunity for me.’’

Motzel joined others in administering an ongoing study of a drug that is designed to lessen the swelling of the brain, providing quick relief for individuals who have suffered a concussion. There are also potential benefits for Alzheimer’s patients that are being measured as part of the study.

“The study and research continues, but I learned a lot in my time there,’’ Motzel said. “There is a lot of potential.’’

Motzel also continues to work toward maximizing his potential on the court.

In Houston, he was challenged by the strength and size of Division I players he competed against from Rice.

“That experience is helping make me a better player,’’ Motzel said. “I went up against some very skilled players on a regular basis and playing regularly against that level of competition is helping me.’’

Augustana coach Grey Giovanine, who spent five seasons as an assistant at Rice, helped put that part of Motzel’s summer experience together through ties he maintains with that program.

Both Motzel and the Vikings are benefiting now as Augustana (15-1, 4-1 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) prepares to visit traditional rival Illinois Wesleyan at 7 p.m. today.

Motzel scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Saturday’s win at Carthage. Since moving into the lineup at the start of CCIW play this month, he ranks third in the conference with an average of 9.4 rebounds per game.

“Even though we went through the nonconference season undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country, I still felt we weren’t playing defense or rebounding as well as we needed to,’’ Giovanine said. “Those are two things ‘Motz’ brings to our team and those are reasons we moved him into the lineup. He’s playing like you would hope a senior would play.’’

In many respects, Motzel has picked up where he left off during the Vikings’ Final Four run last season.

He played through a hernia throughout much of last season and played on even after undergoing hand surgery between postseason games last March, hitting 13-of-16 shots from the field and 10-of-12 attempts at the line while seeing action in all five of Augustana’s NCAA Division III tourney games.

“He’s dealt with a lot and has handled everything that has come his way,’’ Giovanine said.

The Buffalo Grove, Ill., native said he simply tries to roll with the flow.

“It feels good to finally be healthy and to be able to just go out and play,’’ Motzel said. “When I was dealing with all that stuff, I tried to not think about it and just go play and I think I probably played better because of that. I wasn’t over-thinking everything. I was just playing ball.’’

That game plan hasn’t changed this season.

“I’m just trying to make the most of the minutes I get,’’ Motzel said. “Come in, play hard, play defense, rebound, do the things I do. Those are the things that will help make us the best team we can be and I’ll do what I can to do my part.’’

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