Plenty of connections in the game of basketball

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It all came together for me when I saw former metro area boys’ basketball stars Larry Suggs, Brian Sandifer and Quincy Caldwell on the bench as coaches for the Minnesota team, Team Sizzle, during a nationally televised 78-71 victory over Michigan-based Ypsi Prep last month.

Though the game featured the number-one nationally ranked players in the Classes of 2021 (7’1” Chet Holmgren, Team Sizzle) and 2022 (6’8” Emoni Bates, Ypsi Prep), it had many connections to the past as well as the present.

Holmgren lived up to the hype with a 31-point 12-rebound performance as did Bates, who countered with 36 and 10; but for me the story was about connections. Here are some connections that many are unfamiliar with.

Suggs, whose son, 6’4” freshman Jalen Suggs, has already led number-one Gonzaga to victories over Kansas and Auburn, starred at Woodbury High School, earning all-metro honors as a shooting guard before graduating in 1993.

Caldwell, a 1996 graduate of St. Paul Johnson, had an outstanding prep career as a forward for the Governors.

Sandifer, who started the Grass Roots AAU program to help youth succeed in life through basketball, left St. Agnes among the best student-athletes in the school’s history as a basketball and football player in 1986.

From there the connections kept popping up.

As I watched the exhibition game, Donovan Smith of Team Sizzle, a 5’9” guard who also teams with Holmgren at Minnehaha Academy, put on a clinic dedicated to outside shooting, and people have taken notice.

Smith’s father, Joe Smith, was the point guard during a two-year period (1993-1995) that put St. Paul Humboldt on the boys’ basketball map.

Holmgren’s father, David Holmgren, put in work as a player at Minneapolis Central and Prior Lake high schools before graduating in 1983, then continuing his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota.

After including Holmgren’s connection, I assumed that everything needed for this column was in place. Then, former Minneapolis North standout Tamara Moore (Miss Basketball 1998) provided, on her Facebook page, a connection to a person who played girls’ basketball at a time when the sport was not highly recognized.

“For those who don’t know, Dillon Hunter from Ypsi Prep is the son of North High Lady Polar legend Brandi Hunter-Lewis,” she typed. “He is a baller.”

Hunter-Lewis, who was Brandi Decker as a prep player, starred at Minneapolis North, graduating in 1993 before teaming with former Minneapolis Henry great Tracy Henderson to lead the University of Georgia to Final Four appearances in 1995 and 1996.

Lots of connections. I’m sure there were more.