Last Thursday evening, I had a choice to make. The top-rated team in Class 3A boys’ basketball, DeLaSalle, was scheduled to play Park Center, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A.
Across the metro, a girls’ basketball matchup was scheduled between Robbinsdale Cooper, a Class 4A team among the top 20, and DeLaSalle, ranked No. 2 in Class 3A.
It was apparent that if I were to attend the boys’ contest I would see two of the state’s top players in forward REID TRAVIS (DeLaSalle) and guard QUINTON HOOKER (Park Center).
Attending the girls’ game would allow me to see TYSEANNA JOHNSON (DeLaSalle), ALLINA STAR (DeLaSalle), CHELSEY MCGEE (Cooper) and TALAYIAH RICH. I chose to attend the girls’ game because, as a social studies teacher, I am a fan of history.
While Travis was scoring 36 points in leading the Islanders to a 74-60 victory (Hooker led the Pirates with 24 points), history was repeating itself at Robbinsdale Cooper. Well, sort of.
Flashback to March 2009. Former Marshall University High School and University of Wisconsin great FAITH JOHNSON PATTERSON was in (though not known at the time) her final year as head girls’ basketball coach at Minneapolis North, where she guided the Polars to five state championships (1998, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005) in nine appearances between 1997-2005.
North was concluding their season with a 63-50 loss to St. Michael-Albertville in the Class 3A state championship game. It was the Polars’ first appearance since completing a three-peat in 2005. That magical run four years ago was led by senior superstar forward BRIANNA EDWARDS, along with four eighth graders. Those eighth graders were — you guessed it — Johnson, Starr, Rich and McGee.
Though Edwards was headed to Providence College (where she is now in her senior year), the future for North looked bright after Johnson, Starr and McGee were named to the all-tournament team along with their senior teammate. Media outlets had them as the team to watch over the next four years.
A lot has happened since then.
Following the 2009 season, Johnson Patterson left North to become head coach at DeLaSalle, Johnson and Starr enrolled at the Minneapolis private school, and Rich and McGee chose to attend Cooper.
Since then, DeLaSalle has been a state tournament participant in 2010, 2011 and 2012, capturing state crowns the last two years, while Cooper has developed into a contender in Class 4A.
For the first time since 2009, the former teammates met in a nonconference matchup last week that went down to the wire, with DeLaSalle pulling out a 45-42 victory behind Johnson, who led the way with 24 points, and Starr, who added 17. McGee contributed eight points for Cooper while controlling the game’s tempo from her point guard spot before DeLaSalle pulled out the victory in the closing minute.
The star of the game, however, was Rich, who, according to the public address announcer, became the first Cooper player (boy or girl) to score 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for her career. She led her team with 22 points.
The following evening, I watched Hopkins use a balanced attack led by JAKE WRIGHT (20 points), PHILLIP STRIPLING (17), KAMALI CHAMBERS (13 points), NICK JOHNSON (11), ERIC HEDSTROM (9) and AMIR COFFEY (7) to offset RASHAD VAUGHN’S 36-point performance in an 85-70 victory over Cooper in a nonconference boys’ game.
Later that evening, I saw Quashingm Smith-Pugh score 22 points in leading St. Paul Johnson to a 70-56 non-conference win over Minneapolis South. Teammate PIERRE CONWELL added 13. The Tigers were paced by freshman sensation PAYTON BOWDRY’S 16 points. KENLEY FARROW chipped in 12 for South.
But the story last week was the Cooper-DeLaSalle contest. It bought back memories of a magical year for a group of players who went from eighth-grade phenoms as teammates to four of the state’s top players with two each playing on opposite sides.
Last week, this columnist made the right choice.
Mitchell Palmer McDonald welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.