Minneapolis North associate head coach Michael Shelton chuckles when asked about his team’s rivalry with Hopkins.
“Well, it’s more in their favor,” he said.
Indeed, the two storied Minnesota high school boys’ basketball teams will meet next Monday for the ninth time since 2011 and the Polars are still looking for their first win in that stretch. But it’s not as if No. 2-2A North has been a pushover for No. 3-4A Hopkins.
“Oh yeah, we’ve had a couple of OT and games decided on last-second shots,” Shelton said. “These games are always a lot of fun and a great atmosphere.”
The teams played twice last season and Hopkins won 70-62 at Augsburg and 94-70 at North. But three games from 2016 to 2018 were decided by a total of five points and drew the attention of basketball fans across the state.
With pandemic restrictions in place, the atmosphere will likely be muted in the Hopkins gym. But not likely on the court, where Andre Gray II played last season in a Royals uniform but now wears white and blue for the Polars. Gray, a 6-3 senior, transferred to the school where his father and namesake once played.
“There’s gonna be some tension in the air. Let’s just put it that way,” Shelton said.
That tension is more likely to come from a decent matchup than the return of a former teammate. Junior Willie Wilson, averaging nearly 21 points a contest, and senior Davon Townley (15.7 ppg), who has signed to play football at Penn State and has been considering playing basketball as a walk-on with the Nittany Lions, provide the Polars (6-0) a formidable presence.
Wilson, Shelton said, is the heart and soul of the Polars.
“Willie is the mirror of the city, that’s what we call him,” Shelton said. “He’s the captain, he’s the leader, and he takes that role with pride. … He’s been really focused and on a mission.”
Junior guard Meiko Anderson (13.3 ppg) also has had a big impact with North.
Hopkins (7-2), which spent a couple of weeks atop the Class 4A rankings earlier this season, is loaded with talent, led by seniors Xavier White (13.5 ppg), Tristan Lee (12.9 ppg) and Jaelen Treml (12.9 ppg), and junior Elvis Nnaji (11.6 ppg).
Shelton knows what the Polars are up against, but he is optimistic and hopeful.
“I think it’ll be a good game,” he said. “I think maybe this could be our year.”