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The Park Center's boy's basketball team played in the the Class 4A title game last year. How will they follow up on that success. Senior guard Isaiah McKay moved the ball upcourt against Boniface Ogunti during practice after school Thursday afternoon, Dec
For Bo Powell, the message always has been the same.
Powell, now in his fourth year as head coach for the Park Center boys’ basketball team, has preached from the moment he took over that a state championship is the expectation every year.
That credo rings louder than ever, as the Pirates return just one starter from a team that lost the state championship game a year ago to Duke recruit Tyus Jones and the Apple Valley Eagles.
And although Park Center is fielding a younger, more inexperienced lineup this year, the intensity and scrappy style of play that fans have become accustomed to seeing — loaded with full-court presses and a trapping defense — will remain a staple in Powell’s scheme.
“We don’t have anybody we can throw it down to and bang on the inside,” Powell said. “We’ve got to get the ball up the court and wear teams down so that we can play, because if [other teams] have guys that can bang inside, that could make it difficult. We don’t have any bangers.”
Among those missing from a year ago, point guard Quinton Hooker will be the hardest to replace. Hooker, who averaged 20.3 points and nine rebounds in the state tournament, took care of a lot of the coaching moments throughout the season, according to Powell, and advanced the team to the next level.
“Quinton was the X factor, so once you put him out there, it changed things,” Powell said. “We’re thrusting new guys into a role where they haven’t been asked to do things I’m asking them to do. There’s going to be some growing pains just because we don’t have that experience like we did before.”
Finding a leader
At the beginning of last Thursday’s practice, the Pirates split into pairs and began a shooting drill to prepare for their Friday matchup against Northwest Suburban Conference foe Coon Rapids. Powell and his assistants looked on as their young squad went through the motions of another practice, trying to identify who was going to step up, who was going to be the Pirates’ new leader.
“It’s tough right now,” said senior guard Isaiah McKay. “We have younger guys with inexperience. We’re just trying to prepare for each game and win as many as we can.”
As leaders go, two in particular stand out: McKay — the only returning starter — and fellow senior Isaac Matthews, who was also a key contributor last year. Both have been playing well, but a lot has to be done in order for Park Center to recoup its losses.
“If we can be coachable, then [Powell] can get us back to where we were last year,” Matthews said. “As we come closer together and get our chemistry together, I think we’ll be just as good as last year.”
The Pirates are off to a modest 5-3 start, but inconsistent play has led to poor performances. Against Osseo, the Pirates fought back from a 17-point, first-half deficit only to lose by nine.
With Powell attempting to rebrand his team and win games at the same time, he wants his players to know that it’s going to take time. He’s realistic, but he demands success.
“You have to set the bar high. If I don’t, then I won’t feel like they are capable,” Powell said. “And they are more than capable. So if I’m not setting the bar high, how can I ask them to set the bar high?”