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Lakeville North's J P Macura collected a pass and made his way to the basket as he and his teammates ran through drills during practice in Lakeville, Min., Friday, November 15, 2013 ] (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE) kyndell.harkness@startribune.com

 

There are a lot of ways to score two points — a layup, a midrange jumper, a pair of free throws.

Members of the Lakeville North boys’ basketball team have had a full offseason to contemplate how they fell just that short of reaching the Class 4A state semifinals last spring after a 74-72 loss to Park Center at Target Center.

Junior forward Connor Flack calls the agonizing loss as a “growing experience. To guard J.P. Macura, it’s a motivating factor heading into his senior season, a year in which the Panthers envision a different outcome.

“The plan is to win each game we play, win our league, win our section, win state,” Macura said. “It’s not really a goal as much of a mind-set. That’s the way we want to approach it. We have to understand all the little things that we have to do right to win each game.”

The Panthers will try to execute this plan in a South Suburban Conference that boasts the defending state champion, Apple Valley, and Tyus Jones, its high-profile, Duke-bound point guard.

“Everyone is going to be looking at Apple Valley, and rightly so,” North coach John Oxton said. “But, if we grow as a team and play the way we feel we’re capable of, I feel good about our chances against anyone in the state.”

Building something

Oxton has coached the Lakeville boys’ team since 1990, long before it split into two high schools. In the past several years, he has built the Panthers into one of the state’s perennial powers.

The Panthers fell two points short of a state title in 2012, finishing the season 30-2. After switching to Section 1 last season — a playoff bracket that does not include many of the South Suburban’s top programs — North made it back to state again.

Oxton feels his team is poised for a big year.

“We lost a couple very good guards, who will be tough to replace,” he said. “But we’re long and lean and a very athletic team. It might take some time for us to grow together and figure out our roles. Once we do, we should be a very balanced squad.”

The Panthers might lack a true big man, Oxton said, but their lineup will consist almost entirely of players between 6-2 and 6-5. Seniors Bronson Bruneau (6-5), Reed Ziehr (6-3) and Nick Oblak (6-3) will play large roles. Macura and Flack (6-4) will be relied on heavily for leadership and scoring.

“I think we’re going to be a team that can really stretch the floor and get up and down the court,” Flack said. “And we should be good defensively.”

Handling the ball

The biggest challenge for the Panthers early on, Oxton said, will be bringing the ball up the court. The team doesn’t have a returning starter at point guard. Oxton said 6-1 sophomore Drew Stewart most likely will get the ball to start the season.

Macura also will play some at the point. A natural scorer, Macura averaged 25.6 points during the regular season as a junior. He said making a transition to more of a ball-handling role shouldn’t be too tricky.

“The biggest thing is just making sure we get the ball up the court and can make the right decisions,” he said. “If that’s me bringing it up or Drew, it doesn’t really matter. We just have to get into our offense and do what we can do.”

Each possession, each shot, each game—Macura just wants his team to take it one step at a time. The final goals are set, the season’s expectations are all understood. Players understand the margin for error.

“Two points was really hard to swallow last year,” Macura said, “but I feel like we’ll be better because of it.”

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