The most storied high school boys' basketball program in Minnesota? Austin, with 11 state championship game appearances and three titles, is a contender. And Minneapolis North, with its seven state titles? It's got to be the Polars, right?
Consider Hopkins and DeLaSalle. So far in the 21st Century, they’ve combined for 14 state championships (seven Class 4A titles for Hopkins, seven Class 2A or Class 3A titles for DeLaSalle), two second-place finishes (one each) and 24 state tournament appearances (13 for DeLaSalle, 11 for Hopkins).
And yet, these teams have played each other a grand total of one time during that span. Sophomores Blaise Beauchamp and Kerwin Walton each scored 19 points and junior Zeke Nnaji had 17 as the Royals beat DeLaSalle 84-79 at home on Dec. 9, 2017.
The teams, ranked No. 1 in their respective classes by Minnesota Basketball News on Jan. 24, clash again Tuesday at DeLaSalle in a tilt worthy of our Top Game of the Week. As Islanders coach Travis Bledsoe said, "It doesn't get much better than this."
Hopkins lost its No. 1 ranking after its 12-game winning streak was snapped with a one-point loss at Edina on Jan. 11. The Royals (16-2, 1-1), however, have already reclaimed the No. 1-4A ranking and have a new, four-game winning streak entering Tuesday's contest.
Beauchamp left Hopkins to play at highly regarded Findlay Prep in Nevada, but Nnaji (22.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game) and Walton (16.1 ppg) have led the Royals this season. Jalen Dearring (10.7 ppg) and Andy Stafford (10.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg) provide depth.
Last week against a Minneapolis North team that thought it had Nnaji under control at halftime, the 6-10 Arizona commit scored 36 points in a rout of the Polars.
DeLaSalle, with a little more star power than Minneapolis North, provides a formidable opponent for the Royals.
DeLaSalle has victories over No. 7-4A Wayzata (70-49, Dec. 8), No. 9-4A Eden Prairie (76-66, Dec. 1) and Mountain Brook, Ala., (63-62, Dec. 28) ranked 29th nationally by MaxPreps.
Bledsoe said that his No. 1-3A Islanders (10-4, 3-0) are just now starting to realize their potential.
Leading scorers Tyrell Terry (25.5 ppg) and Jamison Battle (22.6 ppg) have both missed games with minor injuries this season, and players such as Kameron Givens (8.8 ppg) and Jalen Travis (9.6 ppg) have strengthened their roles. "I believe the absence of those two has made us a more dynamic team and harder to game plan for," Bledsoe said in an email exchange.
Some of that can be seen in the reduced scoring output for Battle, a 6-foot-7 senior committed to George Washington, since his return from a sprained ankle a few weeks ago. Battle was averaging more than 28 points before sitting out four games and has averaged just 13.2 points in the four games since his return.
"Jamison, being the great team player he is, has accepted that his 30-point games won't be needed as much," Bledsoe said. "But his impact on the game will stay the same or increase. I expect a big game from Jamison (against Hopkins) rebounding and defensively. I'm not too concerned about his scoring. He can still get any shot he wants; it's just a matter of patience."