Duke University doesn’t have the only basketball program led by a “Coach K” that expects to win 20 or more games every year.
Oakdale-based Tartan has the same lofty expectations under coach Mark Klingsporn, known as “Coach K” by the players. Klingsporn has led the Titans to 19 consecutive seasons with at least 20 victories.
“Expectations are always high at Tartan High School in our basketball program,” senior guard Jordan Horn said.
Tartan won the Class 4A state title in 2000, the high point of an eight-year tournament run from 1998-2005. The Titans’ last appeared in the state tournament in 2014, when the seniors on this year’s team were freshman. They hope to make one last big run as section playoffs begin.
“I think we can compete with anybody in the state,” Horn said.
The No. 8-ranked Titans (23-3) don’t get to fill their schedules with top-ranked programs on a regular basis the way Hopkins, DeLaSalle and Apple Valley can do with their geographic proximity to top programs (Tartan is in Oakdale) and their strong conference schedules.
While the Metro East Conference gives the Titans good competition all winter, it hasn’t produced a state finalist in recent years. The Titans have the fifth-best record in the state. Their three losses came by six or fewer points, including two against Class 3A, No. 3 Mahtomedi (20-2). The other was a two-point loss to Edina.
Tartan’s approach this season lacks traditional big men. Senior forward Joevon Walker, at 6-5, is the team’s tallest player after 6-6 forward Jarvis Thomas transferred to Orono. The Titans succeed with their ball pressure on defense. They allow 53.92 points per game.
“We definitely have to have a chip on our shoulders,” Horn said. “We have to play harder, more gritty than other teams. Because other teams, they can get away with some of the things they do because they’re so tall, so athletic.”
Tartan has a talented lineup anchored by Horn, a Division I recruit headed to Siena College. The 6-2 senior guard leads the Titans with 18.6 points per game. Walker averages 11.6 points per game and senior guard Jordan Thompson averages 12.3 points. Both are likely to play in junior college.
Senior guard Noah Whalen, a Division III prospect, contributes with 11.8 points per game. “He’s been lighting it up at the end of the season here,” Walker said of Whalen.
Walker credits senior guard Kingstron Myles for stepping up this season. Myles averages 7.5 points per game.
While Tartan has not tested itself against another top-10 team in Class 4A this season, the Titans did face Armstrong, led by 6-8 junior forward Race Thompson, and prevailed 77-71 in a game on Dec. 10.
“We always had multiple guys at him wherever he was at,” Horn said.
That experience has the Titans feeling confident should they make a successful run through Section 4 and reach the state tournament at Target Center. A year ago in the section final, the Titans fell short against North St. Paul 70-65.
“That’s something we’ll never forget,” Horn said.
Horn and company keep their program’s legacy each time they take the floor playing for “Coach K.”
Whalen said the team goes in confident because “we have the best coaches in the state.”