John's Journal: No Surprises For Cherry Boys Basketball
After Last Season’s Glory, Tigers Are A Team To Watch
Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2022 - 7:31 PM
One thing is certain about the boys basketball team from Cherry High School: The Tigers aren’t going to sneak up on anyone this season.
Last year, Cherry made headlines by advancing to the Class A state tournament for the first time in a quarter century. In the semifinals they lost 72-61 to Hayfield, which went on to capture its second consecutive state championship.
The Tigers and Hayfield Vikings met again on Saturday in the 16-game Breakdown Tipoff Classic at Hopkins High School, and Cherry came away with a 62-43 win.
“They’re the number one team in the state and we wanted to go show something, kind of set the tone for the state, I guess,” said Cherry junior Isaac Asuma, one of the top recruits in the state. The 6-foot-3 junior scored 18 points Saturday, completing a return from injury.
Asuma, a three-sport athlete, suffered a broken thumb late in the football season. He was cleared to play before the Tigers faced Barnum at home on Friday night, and all he did in that game was get a triple-double. The Tigers boarded a bus at 7 a.m. Saturday for the 12:15 p.m. game against Hayfield, and they showed no signs of being worn out.
“The mentality is we’ve got to play tired,” coach Jordan Christianson said. “We’ll play anyone anywhere anytime, just get ready to go.
“We’re working on the mental part of the game. And we have the athletes, we have the guys. It’s tough to get 18 high school kids to all focus at the same time. But usually we take phones away on the bus. Just to focus up on the game, get some sleep, talk to a teammate. And that seems to help quite a bit actually, just focusing on taking care of the task at hand.”
The Tigers stood out last year, finishing 27-6 with a seventh-grader (Isaiah Asuma), an eighth-grader (Noah Asuma) and sophomore (Isaac Asuma) in the starting lineup. Noah and Isaac are brothers and Isaiah is their cousin.
“We're at the point where we know the expectations and we know what we have to do to take care of business,” Christianson said. “And they're doing a good job of that.”
Isaac Asuma was a breakout star at state last season, scoring 31 points in a 68-57 quarterfinal win over Nevis, 36 against Hayfield and 18 against New Life Academy, which defeated Cherry 75-50 in the Class A third-place game.
Isaac’s college offers include Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State and Nebraska. During Saturday’s game, Gophers coach Ben Johnson, assistant coach Dave Thorson and most of the Gophers players watched Cherry face Hayfield. Johnson and Thorson also traveled to Cherry to watch Isaac play in some football games this fall.
“That was super cool to see,” Asuma said of the Gophers watching him Saturday. “I wasn't expecting all the players to show up. That was just awesome.”
Hayfield and Cherry have developed a rivalry that’s filled with respect. Their first meeting, last February, was thrown together when Hayfield needed an opponent. The Vikings were scheduled to meet Minneota in one of several games on a Saturday at Kasson-Mantorville, but Minneota was unable to play. Calls were made to teams around the state and Cherry made the four-hour drive to Kasson.
Hayfield won that game 78-65 and won round two against the Tigers at state. Saturday’s game at Hopkins was Cherry’s first win vs. Hayfield.
Before their meeting at Kasson in February, “I reached out to all the top Class A teams to try and find anyone that would be willing to play us,” said Hayfield coach Chris Pack. “And kudos to them for being willing to go anywhere in the state.
“That was the first time we played. It was a fun, competitive game and there was a lot of respect right away between players and coaches and everything. And then obviously at the state tournament, we played again.
“Isaac is just a great kid and I've gotten to know him a little bit. I know he was out last week and we were really hoping he was going to play.”
Cherry will be back in the Twin Cities this Saturday (Dec. 17) for a 7:30 p.m. game at Minnehaha Academy. If all goes according to plan, they’ll be back for the state tournament in March.
“We all know we can definitely do it again this year,” Isaac Asuma said. “We’ve just got to keep working in the gym. Nothing's given to us. We’ve still got to earn it, work every day for it and just play our best.”
--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