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Champlin Park's Ian Smith passed the ball to teammate Brennan Witt between two Andover' defenders during the first half of their game in Champlin Park Thursday, January 9, 2014. ] (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE) firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer dreams have come true thus far for the Champlin Park boys’ basketball team.
The Rebels have parlayed their strong showing at a University of Northern Iowa camp into the longest active winning streak in Class 4A. A surge of 12 consecutive victories and 13-1 record bumped them to No. 4 in the rankings.
Champlin Park has defeated the four teams ranked fifth through eighth: Robbinsdale Armstrong, Osseo, Eden Prairie and Roseville. The Rebels’ only loss came against No. 2 Hopkins.
Junior guard J.T. Gibson said his teammates left Iowa “thinking we could be really good” but admitted the strong start this season was “really a surprise to me. I knew we were going to be good. I didn’t know we were going to be this good.”
Unselfish scoring and active defense have fueled Champlin Park’s run. All five starters average double-digit scoring totals: Brennan Witt (17.4 points per game), Jeremy Johnson (13.1), Ian Smith (12.7), Gibson (11.7) and Marty Hill (10.6). In the past eight games, the Rebels averaged 21.5 assists. Witt, Smith and Gibson are returning starters while Johnson and Hill were promoted from a junior varsity team that lost only one game last season.
“It’s fun because you can’t focus on all five of us at one time,” Gibson said.
Guarding the Rebels is just one problem opponents face. The other is making plays against Champlin Park’s undersized but relentless defense. The starting lineup features four guards and only one player, Witt, measuring 6-5 or taller. No matter. The Rebels swarm ball handlers and disrupt passing lanes, create steals and then lose opponents in transition.
The effort is contagious. Reserve guard Alec Leabo forced steals on consecutive Andover possessions in a victory last week.
Players said a 106-103 loss to Hopkins early this season refocused their defensive efforts. The Rebels went on to hold Armstrong, Osseo, Eden Prairie and Roseville to below their season scoring averages.
“Going into the season we knew that we were going to be small,” said Smith, a senior guard. “But we make up for height in length. We’re quick and athletic guys who are aggressive.”
Added Witt: “We have smart players who know where to be and our goal is to have active hands and get tips.”
Witt credited a newfound unity for much of the Rebels’ success. The group shares the ball on the court and distributes good-natured jabs in the locker room. Gibson said a team trip to a mobile phone store included players snapping “selfies” on every available phone. They also enjoy hanging out at the local Broadway Pizza after Friday night games.
“The team chemistry is the best it’s ever been,” Witt said. “That will help us on the court and hopefully take us deep into the playoffs.”
Players watched the past two seasons as fellow Class 4A, Section 5 teams Osseo and Park Center reached the state championship game. Osseo won it all in 2012. Park Center finished runner-up last season. Now the Rebels want to make their run.
“Oh yeah, this is our year,” Witt said.
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574