The Anoka Ramsey Community College gym was abuzz on March 14, 2017. Cristo Rey Jesuit coach Stanley Clay, a few days earlier, had not so subtly suggested his team, led by star senior Jericho Sims, had a better-than-a-fighter’s chance to beat defending Class 1A state champion and high-wire basketball act Minneapolis North in the Class 1A, Section 4 championship.
Polars coach Larry McKenzie, along with his players and the team’s supporters, not so subtly scoffed at the idea. And then the Polars not so subtly pounded Cristo Rey Jesuit 88-45 on their way to a second consecutive Class 1A state title.
Meanwhile, at DeLaSalle, less than three miles southeast of Minneapolis North, the Islanders were methodically working their way to a sixth consecutive Class 3A state title.
Neither team won a title last season. DeLaSalle, seeded No. 1 in the state tournament, was upset by No. 4 Columbia Heights in the semifinals and finished third. North moved up to Class 2A in an effort to assert itself on a larger stage and fell just short of the state tournament, losing to Brooklyn Center in the Section 4 final.
On Tuesday, the storied programs — which are again at the top of their class — meet for the first time this decade. The Polars, boasting seven state titles in school history, meet the Islanders — and their 11 state titles — in a heavyweight contest worthy of being our Top Game of the Week.
Senior guards Eli Campbell (15.7 points per game) and Nasir El-Amin (15.3 ppg) lead the way for North (6-2, 2-0), which owns the No. 2 spot in the Class 2A rankings released by Minnesota Basketball News on Jan. 2. Josh Hodges, a 6-5 senior who averages 12.7 ppg, and 6-7 sophomore Davon Townley (11 ppg) anchor the Polars’ front line.
A pair of Division I recruits, senior forward Jamison Battle (a George Washington commit) and senior guard Tyrell Terry (Stanford), lead the No. 1-3A Islanders (5-3, 0-0). Battle averages 28.8 ppg, Terry 22.5. Jalen Travis, a junior forward, averages nine points and 10 rebounds.