John's Journal: Special Moments Make For Special Tournaments
‘That's What High School Basketball Is About’
Posted: Saturday, March 25, 2023 - 6:26 PM
There are always lots of special moments and scenes when state championships are decided. Athletes hit big shots when it matters most. Winners raise their trophies high as fans cheer loudly. Teams pose for photos with that treasured piece of hardware.
And then there are quieter moments that can be just as special and even more meaningful. During the postgame ceremony after Russell-Tyler-Ruthton defeated New Life Academy 59-49 in Saturday’s Class 1A boys basketball title game at Target Center, we saw such moments.
New Life had been in a big hole for most of the game, trailing for the full 36 minutes. The RTR Knights led by 18 points at halftime before the Eagles went on a 10-0 run to cut the margin to three points with 7:28 left in the second half. RTR led 52-49 with 4:42 left and the Knights (31-1) finished the game with a 7-0 run.
The players from New Life (26-6), which is in Woodbury, were of course crushed with the outcome. Coming so close to your goal and your dream but falling just short? Come on, that’s a tough deal.
As the teams lined up on their respective free throw lines for the awards ceremony, second-year New Life coach Robbie Whitney took a step or two forward, looked at his players standing in a line, smiled, said a few words, clapped his hands a couple times and stepped back into line.
The Eagles then individually received their silver medals, hanging on red ribbons. Then the Knights leaned their heads down as gold medals on blue ribbons were placed around their necks. Both teams posed with their trophies as their fans cheered and applauded.
In the postgame interview session, Whitney was asked what he said to the players in that moment. He grinned again.
“I told them to smile and keep their heads up. You know, it's never fun ending the season on a loss but man, taking second place at state? This is something that these guys are going to remember for the rest of their lives.”
He was sitting at a table with three of the team’s nine seniors: Gavin Bertram, Maxwell Briggs and Erick Reader. Whitney was the only one of the four at the table who was still wearing his second-place medal. On the wall in the media room, silent TVs were replaying highlights from the game via the KSTC-TV broadcast.
As he talked about what the Eagles had accomplished, Whitney leaned forward and looked down the table to the three players sitting to his left and spoke directly to them.
“You don't get to state championships every year,” he said. “You don't get to play in these games very much. So just the ability to soak it all in, I just wanted them to remember that. You guys have done something special this year that no one in our school has done before. And even though we're 10 points short, whatever it was, I want you guys to soak it in.”
There was another moment, this one happening immediately after the postgame ceremony ended. Whitney, wearing that never-ending smile, walked toward the RTR adult fans who were sitting behind the New Life bench. He said a few words, gave them a wave, and the folks in the stands smiled, waved back and applauded.
What was that all about?
“I told them they made me a little upset because they're pretty loud,” said Whitney, still smiling (of course). “They're good at what they're doing. Every time there was a timeout, they started screaming a little bit louder when I started talking. So I just wanted to give them props. You can tell that team means a lot to that community. That’s special to see, especially to play teams like that when you get here. All the towns coming together and they're screaming, I love it. That's what high school basketball is about.”
(You can read more about Whitney here: https://www.mshsl.org/about/news/johns-journal/johns-journal-new-kid-block-vs-seasoned-veterans )
When Totino-Grace defeated DeLaSalle 50-46 in Saturday night’s Class 3A championship game, it ended Todd Anderson’s first season as head coach at DeLaSalle after 25 years as an assistant. The Islanders finished 26-6.
Nasir Whitlock, DeLaSalle’s senior scoring leader, was asked to talk about Anderson. He said, “He got us to the state championship and he did the best job. We just had to go out there and play, he can’t go out there and play. So it feels bad that we let him down but we know he's a good coach. So we'll always be back.”
A few questions later, Anderson circled back to Nasir’s statement about the players letting down the coach. He disagreed.
“This isn't really about basketball,” he said. “It's about life, right? So in reality we had a great journey, and we hold each other accountable. They were accountable to me and I was accountable to them, the staff was accountable to them and they were accountable to each other. Sometimes you get to the end and there's icing on the top, and sometimes not.
“It's like I told them, I'll look in the mirror and ask myself how many different things could we have done, could we have done this or done that to try to impact the outcome of the game? But that's just the product of all of us being accountable to each other. These guys have been resilient and persistent all year. We're family. I love these guys. They fight, they’re warriors and they do it with passion and they love each other.”
The quote of the day came from New Life’s Reader, who said, “You just can't give up. You can never give up. It doesn't matter, the score or the time, you can never give up.”
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton is no stranger to state championships. The 2023 title is their fourth, the others coming in 2004, 2005 and 2018. The Knights’ only loss came against Dawson-Boyd in the last game of the regular season, but they defeated the Blackjacks in the Section 3 title game. RTR finished sixth at state last year.
“I thought we had the capability to at least return here and then once you get here, you know, there’s a chip, a chair and a chance and you go out and just play hard. And we've done that all year,” said RTR coach Daren Gravley.
A year ago, New Life finished third at state. The Eagles also played at state in 2003 and 2004.
Albany Wins First Class 2A Crown
The Albany Huskies made history by winning their first state championship, defeating Minnehaha Academy 72-65 for the Class 2A title. The Huskies (31-1) previously played at state in 1971, 1981, 1997 and 2015.
The Huskies’ only loss this season was against Holy Family, the team that Minnehaha Academy (23-9) beat in overtime in Friday’s semifinals.
Minnehaha made its 11th appearance at state. The Redhawks were champions in 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021.
Totino-Grace Repeats In Class 3A
In a rematch of last year’s championship game, Totino-Grace defeated DeLaSalle to win its second consecutive title. One year ago, the Eagles defeated DeLaSalle 50-44. Totino-Grace finished the season with a record of 24-8.
Wayzata Tops Park Center In 4A
A year ago Park Center won the 4A state title with a 58-53 win over Wayzata. This time, in a rematch, the Trojans evened the score with a 75-71 win in overtime. Wayzata closed the season with a record of 27-4. The Pirates are 28-3.
The 4A game ended 110 years of high school hoops in Minnesota without shot clocks (the first boys state tournament was held in 1913). Starting next season, all girls and boys varsity games will use a 35-second shot clock.
Eight longtime MSHSL officials were honored at halftime of the Class 1A championship game with Distinguished Service Awards. The honorees were: Jim Christensen of Northfield, Rick DeGardner of Vadnais Heights, Duane Hoecherl of Bloomington, Wes Knutson of Crookston, Barry Langen of Kennedy, Tom Madura of Apple Valley, Pete Vrieze of New Richmond, Wis., and Frank White, of Woodbury. Read about them here: https://www.mshsl.org/about/news/awards/2023-officials-distinguished-service-award
Celebrating Chisholm History
Members of Chisholm High School’s 1973 Class A state championship team held a 50-year reunion at the state tournament. That team won the first of the Bluestreaks’ three state titles under legendary coach Bob McDonald; the others were in 1975 and 1991.
75 Years Of State Tournament Radio
This year’s boys basketball tournament marks a broadcasting milestone that’s unmatched in Minnesota. KDHL Radio 920 AM in Faribault is providing its 75th year of baseline-to-baseline coverage.
The Mighty 920 went on the air in 1948. During the one-class era, KDHL broadcast all tournament games. In recent years, 16 total games have been broadcast each year, including all semifinal and championship games in each class.
Gordy Kosfeld has been part of the tournament broadcast team since 1988, joined on the air by Roy Koenigsberg in recent years. Other legendary broadcasters of state tournament games on KDHL include Tom Bachrach, Tom Hartman, Steve Skogen, Gordy Hinck and Mike Morrissey.
Congratulations to everyone at KDHL.
--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 [email protected]