Last year in late December a friend of mine, former Minneapolis North and University of Minnesota women’s basketball player ELLEN HEBERT, suggested that I attend a boys’ basketball contest between Park Center and Osseo on Friday, January 6, 2011.
I will admit I blew the invitation off at first. I live in St. Paul, and the thought of driving through traffic was enough for me to want to attend a game closer to my home. Not sure if it was voices I kept hearing or a gravitational pull that turned my car west on I-94 instead of east.
Before I knew it, my car was parking in front of Osseo High School. As I approached the front doors, I thought of the positive possibilities of my visit.
First, I thought of finally getting to see Hebert’s son D.J. play for Osseo. I never got to see the all-metro quarterback play on the gridiron but was excited about watching him play guard for the Orioles.
Secondly, it was an opportunity to see Park Center coach BRODERICK POWELL inaction. Powell had been an assistant to DAVE THORSON over at
DeLaSalle and had led Minneapolis North to the City Conference title in 2010 before taking over at Park Center. I had not seen him coach since his outstanding job in leading the Polars.
Thirdly, I had not been to a basketball game at Osseo High School since going with my father KWAME MCDONALD to watch former Oriole point guard and University of Illinois Chicago standout WILLIE JETT play during his senior year in which he earned all-state honors in 1983.
I walked into the gym and took my place underneath the basket on the north end of the court. As both teams warmed up before a standing-room-only crowd, I knew that this was just more than a basketball game. Osseo was one of the state’s top-ranked team at the time, and Park Center was a talented team without a senior on its roster. More importantly, the schools were rivals.
As the game started, it was clear that I would someday thank Ellen Hebert for her timely suggestion. Both teams clearly had talented players. Guards D.J. Hebert and BRIGDE TUSLER and center IAN THEISEN were leading Osseo.
On the other side of the court was a stocky 6-0 guard with a trimmed afro that brought me back to the 1970s and early ’80s. After he hit his first jumper, I chalked it up as just another basket. When he dished the ball to a teammate for an easy score, again I really paid it no mind.
But after two more long-range jump shots to bring Park Center to within a point with under two minutes remaining, I found myself scrambling to unfold my game program while asking myself, “Who is the brotha with the afro?” I finally got it unfolded and there it read: QUINTON HOOKER. I had just witnessed one of the state’s outstanding players.
Osseo defeated Park Center that evening 60-59. Hooker finished the game with 21 spectacular points. I made a point that I would definitely be back for the rematch on February 11. As fate would have it, my father was being honored the same evening at Concordia University-St. Paul for his support of their athletic programs over the years.
Osseo defeated Park Center on the Pirates’ home court that night 88-58 and a month later was crowned the 2012 Class 4A boys basketball champion at the Target Center. Powell, Hooker and his teammates would have to wait eight months before challenging their rival again.
That challenge came last Tuesday evening when Osseo, ranked number one on Class 4A, traveled to play the number-two Pirates. Things were different this time around. Hooker led the way with 34 points, and teammate DEVIN BUCKLEY added 21 points in a 72-63 victory over Osseo.
The Orioles were led by WHEELER BAKER’s 21 points. Thiesen added 17, while Tusler, Mr. Football and Metro Player of the Year in the sport, added 12.
The contest, played before a packed house, brought me full circle.
Last year on the suggestion of a friend, I attended a basketball game that I almost passed up. I saw a player that not many people knew about. A year later that player has signed with a Division I school (North Dakota), is among the leading candidates for Mr. Basketball, and leads the number-one-ranked Class 4A team in the state.
What a difference a year makes.
Mitchell Palmer McDonald welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.