Gritty senior forward Matt Miedtke was lost for the season because of a knee injury after only six games. Star center Ian Theisen, a 6-9 Division I recruit, went out because of a stress fracture in his left foot not long after.
Turns out, losing two of its best players might have been the best thing to happen to the Osseo basketball team.
“No, we didn’t plan it that way,” said coach Tim Theisen (no relation to Ian), laughing. “But the injuries have been the biggest turning point for this team.”
Talent was never in question for fourth-seeded Osseo, which will face No. 5 Shakopee in the Class 4A quarterfinals at noon Wednesday at Target Center. The biggest issue was getting players from various backgrounds, many of whom had little playing time together, to realize their potential in a relatively short time.
There was Ian Theisen, an eye-opening combination of size and strength with remarkably soft hands; Wheeler Baker, a slashing 6-2 guard who is equally adept at defense as he is at scoring; Miedtke, the prototypical under-the-radar glue guy; Connor Kittleson, lean and athletic; Giovanni Pastrano, in only his second year in Minnesota after moving from Puerto Rico; and newcomers in guards Jordan Dembley and Elliot Kane.
The pieces were there, but, like any puzzle, it took a while to get them to fit together.
“I’ll be honest with you, early in the season the chemistry wasn’t great,” Baker said. “But it takes time. It’s all about time and building relationships.”
Saddled with a schedule designed to build callouses along with the losses of two of its best players, Osseo traversed a season of character- building highs and lows, including an 11-game winning streak followed by a four-game losing streak.
All the time, Coach Theisen said, he could see things coming together.
“With Matt and Ian out, we had some guys getting playing time and gaining experience,” he said. “You can see how much it’s helped us now.”
Ian Theisen returned just in time for the playoffs, adding inside presence and senior leadership. He said he could tell how much better his team was when he came back.
“As weird as it sounds, having me and Matt out was a good thing,” the South Dakota State recruit said. “It gave big minutes to some of the other guys, and you could see the difference that made.”
Coach Theisen had some other tricks in his bag as well. He swapped out Kane for Pastrano in the starting lineup, opting for Pastrano’s athleticism and rebounding and counting on Kane to provide points off the bench.
“Gio is still learning to play offense, but he’s smart and he gives us defense and rebounding,” Coach Theisen said. “And Elliot? Well, he’s instant offense.”
The Orioles are still far from a finished product — they trailed by double digits in the first halves of their section semifinal and championship games before rallying to win — but it’s clear the momentum has swung in their favor.
“It’s all about perseverance,” Baker said. “When you have injuries and lose games, it’s an opportunity to reflect on what went wrong. Now, we’re much better as a unit. We believe in ourselves. And when we play like we’re capable of playing, we can beat anybody.”