John’s Journal: The ESPNU Game That Got Some Big Assists
Pine Island, Waseca Helped Make Stewartville-Minnehaha A Go
Posted: Tuesday, February 16, 2021 - 4:23 PM
Two Minnesota boys basketball teams played under a national spotlight Monday night, but it didn’t happen without major assistance from two other schools.
Minnehaha Academy hosted Stewartville in a hastily-arranged game shown on ESPNU, but that wasn’t the original matchup. The Redhawks were scheduled to meet Houston High School from Germantown, Tennessee; that team’s first-year head coach is former NBA player Mike Miller, who spent time with the Timberwolves and has two sons on his high school team.
Winter storms over the weekend meant Houston’s flight to Minneapolis on Sunday was cancelled late Saturday, and at first it appeared that everything was off. No game, no TV, no national audience. No nothing.
But it didn’t take long for Minnehaha Academy athletic director Josh Thurow to find a way. He phoned Stewartville athletic director Tim Malone on Saturday night. The matchup made sense; Minnehaha 7-foot senior Chet Holmgren is the No. 1 recruit in the country and has yet to announce a college choice. The Stewartville Tigers’ star is 6-foot-9 senior Will Tschetter, who has signed with Michigan.
When Stewartville coach Adam Girtman received a text from Malone about the possibility on Saturday night, he thought the game was being scheduled for next season.
“He texted me and said, ‘Do you want to play Minnehaha?’ I thought, ‘Chet’s gone next year so that would probably be a good time.’ ”
Seeing Tschetter and Holmgren on the court together would be a dream matchup, and the schools made it happen. But the Tigers needed some help. Under MSHSL Covid guidelines, teams can play only two games per week until the late stages of the regular season; Stewartville already had two games scheduled this week. In addition, the regular-season limit in 2021 is 18 games; the Tigers already had 18 games booked.
Malone called Pine Island athletic director Lisa Myran-Schutte and asked if the Panthers could reschedule a Hiawatha Valley League game set for Tuesday night. She immediately said yes. Malone then called Waseca athletic director Joe Hedervare. Stewartville and Waseca were slated to play a non-conference game Feb. 25, and Hedervare immediately agreed to cancel that game and allow the Tigers to remain within the 18-game limit.
“I called Joe and he said, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you’ve got to go take that,’ ” Malone said. “It wouldn’t have happened without Lisa and Joe. We’re all trying to offer opportunities for our kids and it’s important to follow all the guidelines.”
The game was played under the current state-mandated limit of 250 spectators; Stewartville was allotted 50 tickets for fans who made the 90-minute drive from their hometown of 6,000 people south of Rochester to the Minnehaha Academy campus in south Minneapolis.
Minnehaha won the game 87-63 to improve to 8-1; the Redhawks’ only loss came against IMG Academy of Florida. Stewartville is 8-2 with a previous loss to Caledonia. Minnehaha, a member of the Independent Metro Athletic Conference, is ranked No. 1 in Class 3A and the Tigers are ranked fourth in Class 2A.
Tschetter had 19 points for Stewartville, which was led by senior guard Nolan Stier’s 24. Holmgren topped the Redhawks with 18 points, along with eight rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots. Prince Aligbe, Isaiah Davis and Mercy Miller all scored 14 points and Hercy Miller had 12 for Minnehaha.
“The general feeling was, I think, being grateful and proud of how we played,” Girtman said Tuesday. “We battled. We didn’t give up, which I’m most proud of. It was worth it. It was a great experience for the kids. Besides Will, most of these kids won’t be on ESPN in the future.”
Tschetter said, “I think our team was pretty satisfied with how we played. We left it all on on the court, and ultimately that’s what it’s about. There’s nothing better you can ask for.
“A lot of people are asking me what was it like to play against the No. 1 player in nation. He’s really good. You need to give him credit where credit is due. It was a super cool opportunity.”
Both athletic directors have experience coaching at the highest levels of basketball. Malone was an assistant to head coach Bob Vaughan on the Braham boys teams that won Class 2A state titles in 2004, 2005 and 2006. He then became head coach of the Braham girls team, winning the state championship in 2011 and finishing second at state in 2010 and 2013.
Braham’s 2011 state title came with a 68-61 win over Minnehaha Academy, coached by Thurow. A year earlier, the Redhawks defeated Braham 64-46 in the championship game. Thurow coached 11 Minnehaha teams in the state tournament between 2005 and 2018, when he stepped away from coaching.
Malone and his wife Michelle were enjoying a pre-Valentine’s dinner at Seth’s Downunder Bar & Grill in Stewartville on Saturday night … it’s operated by Stier’s parents. Malone had finished his prime rib when his phone began blowing up with texts and Twitter and Facebook messages from Thurow.
He called Thurow and learned Minnehaha’s opponent for a game less than 48 hours away was stranded in Tennessee. That call was at around 9 p.m. Saturday. By 10 a.m. Sunday, Malone had called his counterparts in Pine Island and Waseca and everything had been ironed out. The Tigers-Redhawks matchup was set and ESPN approved.
“I like to do whatever I can to put our small town in the spotlight,” Malone said. “I was hoping this would be a shot in the arm for every third- and fourth-grader in town who got to watch their buddies on TV.
“We’re servants to our kids and our communities.”
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org