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Since his freshman year, Navy commit Josiah Strong has gradually budded underneath a rich bed of talent at Champlin Park.
Working out with 2015 Mr. Basketball Winner J.T. Gibson and 2017 recipient McKinley Wright (who both led their respective team to unbeaten runs into the state title game), Strong’s predecessors primed him for this season where he became the leader of the Rebels' program.
“They came in, brought me to workouts and showed me how to lead. It all set me up for success and its been my job to follow through with it,” Strong said. “They set me up and I’m just keeping the train going.”
Strong, seizing his role as his team’s leading scorer, posted a game-high 23 points to lead Champlin Park to its 13th consecutive victory following a 81-45 rout of Northwest Suburban Conference rival Maple Grove Tuesday night at home.
Despite losing 11 seniors (four which were all-conference recipients) and returning just two regular contributors on varsity, the Rebels (20-5, 6-2) reached the 20-win milestone for a fifth straight year with the victory over the Crimson (18-7, 12-6).
Champlin Park , ranked No. 8 in Class 4A by Minnesota Basketball News, stumbled early in the season, losing three of its first five games. Strong attributes the Rebels’ resurgence to the team’s developing synergy.
“We have a mentality of winning and we came into the season with that,” Strong said. “We started kinda slow because we had to jell and build chemistry, but as we’ve progressed it’s just like all the years before: we started winning and became confident.”
Champlin Park pressured No. 13-4A Maple Grove early and denied the Crimson easy baskets with a trap zone defense. The team-oriented Rebels ran out to a 25-8 lead to open the game where six players scored no more than six points each. Junior Bennett Otto, Champlin Park’s other regular returner, hit a trio of three-pointers in the first half as the Rebels' ball movement continued to exploit soft spots in Maple Grove’s defense.
Maple Grove leading scorer Jared Rainey sank back-to-back baskets in the second half as it seemed the Crimson were building momentum.
Kelvin Tappa found Strong on the fast break which spurred an 11-point run where the Crimson didn’t score for six minutes.
“We played together in eighth-grade travelling basketball, but spent a few years on different teams,” Strong said of Tappa, his fellow senior. “We have chemistry and getting back to that has been great.”
While Champlin Park coach Mark Tuchsherer has coined Strong and Otto as “offensive leaders,” he acknowledges his team has numerous leaders for what they bring on the floor and to the team. Tuchsherer, in his 12th year at the helm of the program, knew it was just a matter of time for his team to find its form.
“We knew we had good players stepping into some big roles and that takes time,” he said. “These boys are finding some rhythm now.”
Strong saw his team grow in a matter of minutes in the Rebels’ 86-81 win on Feb. 2 over Class 4A, Section 5 rival and seventh-ranked Park Center where Champlin Park was tested defensively, but made the stops when needed in the final minutes of the game.
The Rebels have since beaten No. 12-4A Wayzata (89-84 on Feb. 3) and No. 14-4A Eden Prairie (86-83 on Feb. 15) in the midst of their winning streak they hope to keep alive against Spring Lake Park this Friday and into the postseason.
Strong said the foundation that’s been set at Champlin Park continues to keep the program at the pinnacle of Class 4A. He hopes to do the same for the younger players waiting in the ranks.
“They really set me up for this year and I feel like I’ve developed a lot as a player and a leader,” Strong said. “I’m a lot more vocal and confident in helping my younger teammates grow.”
Josiah Strong posted a game-high 23 points to push the Rebels to their 13th consecutive victory following a 81-45 rout of Northwest Suburban Conference foe Maple Grove Tuesday night at Champlin Park High School.
Ranked No. 8 in Class 4A by Minnesota Basketball News, the Rebels (20-5, 6-2) reached 20 wins for a fifth straight year with the win over the No. 13-4A Crimson (18-7, 12-6).
Champlin Park used an 11-1 run early in the first half to take a lead it never relinquished. Bennett Otto had 11 points as the Rebels’ only other double-digit scorer.
Maple Grove’s Jared Rainey scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the first half. Nate Adams added 14.
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