Scoggins: Minnesota basketball and its kids deserved these moments of joy

Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune
·4 min read

The moments felt pitch-perfect, all of them. Teenagers celebrating wildly with teammates, basking in the euphoria that comes with being state champion.

They will remember that feeling for the rest of their lives, the eruption of joy as the final seconds ticked off, but also gratitude in being able to compete in a state tournament in a season that appeared to be hanging by a thread.

Unlike last year, when COVID-19 was still in its beginning stages, both the boys' and girls' basketball tournaments crowned champions this weekend. Eight winners total. And eight opponents that came so close but deserve a standing ovation, too.

The athletes wore masks during practices and games all season. They endured a delay to the season, then stops and starts when positive tests hit. They played games shorthanded while teammates quarantined at home. And a few programs got shut down before the playoffs even began, an absolute bummer for those kids and communities.

"I do feel bad for those teams that didn't get the opportunity," said Chaska girls' coach Tara Seifert, whose Hawks won the Class 4A title.

Seifert's team knows well how fragile the journey to a state championship felt. A positive test caused Chaska to cancel its final six games of the regular season. The Hawks couldn't play or practice for two weeks. Their first section playoff game came on their first day back together.

"We are very grateful that we got to play in the postseason," Seifert said. "It gave us a huge drive to say, hey, it almost all got taken away from us and we're going to make the most of it."

The Wayzata Trojans, who won their first boys' state title since 1959, had a particularly close bond inside their locker room this season, according to coach Bryan Schnettler. His players loved coming to practice and being together, probably because everyone has spent so much time apart the past 12 months.

"They have been so grateful to be around each other," Schnettler said.

The basketball on display was a treat, too. No catchy slogans necessary, Minnesota unequivocally has become a basketball state, as well.

The past few weeks have offered quite a showcase for Minnesota hoops, with Paige Bueckers winning every national player of the year award at UConn, Jalen Suggs nailing a buzzer-beater that promises to become an iconic March Madness moment, and the next wave of high school talent battling in the state tournament.

"Minnesota basketball, basically since Tyus [Jones], has been really good," Schnettler said. "It's become just a big-time thing in this state."

The state championship games provided a snapshot. Chet Holmgren, rated the No. 1 senior nationally, led Minnehaha Academy to the Class 3A championship.

The 4A finale featured two nationally ranked juniors, Cretin-Derham Hall's Tre Holloman and Wayzata's Camden Heide.

The 2A game showcased North Dakota State signee Andrew Morgan of Waseca. Caledonia star Eli King, another highly rated junior, missed the game because of a knee injury.

Minnesota's class of 2022 includes six players ranked in the top 125 recruits nationally, according to recruiting expert Ryan James. All are expected to play high-level Division I.

The pipeline isn't drying up.

"The number of kids who are college basketball players at Division I, II or III has just exploded in this state," Schnettler said.

Same on the girls' side. The Star Tribune's all-metro teams are filled with players who will play collegiately. All five members of the first team are expected to play high-major Division I.

"The girls' basketball game in general, the development has been amazing to see the last five to 10 years," Chaska's Seifert said. "How much more athletic the girls are, and how skilled."

Minnesota basketball has never been in better shape. The talent pool is deep and expanding, and the coaching is top-notch. The year-round commitment from players and coaches is evident at all levels.

The state tournament served as a celebration of that basketball success. And a celebration of having the season reach the finish line. It was impossible not to smile watching the winners cut loose and enjoy that moment.

They earned it.