The Prior Lake boys’ basketball team went 19-7 this season, thanks in part to a grandmother who doesn’t get out to the games anymore but still has an influence on the team.
Jon Sobaski, the Lakers’ leading scorer, credits his grandmother, Iris Ramsey, for motivating his strong play. The junior guard averaged 18.2 points per game during the year for Prior Lake.
“She can’t make it [to games] anymore, but she still sits at home and watches them on the webcast. She’s my biggest fan,” Sobaski said. “I feel like I do everything for her now.”
Ramsey, who played high school basketball in Arkansas, has told Sobaski stories from the days when girls’ teams had six players per side — three designated for offense and three for defense.
Sobaski says she often asks him what statistics he’ll put up that night, and that motivates him.
“It’s not pressure; it’s a little more like love. Like she wants me to succeed, and that pushes me.”
Sobaski and 7-foot senior center Carson Shanks were big reasons for the Lakers’ success this season. Prior Lake won nine of its last 11 regular season games, but was upset by Lakeville South 75-63 last Wednesday in the first round of the Class 4A, Section 2 tournament.
Still, the pair of Division I recruits stood out for the Lakers during the year.
Sobaski set a new Prior Lake single-game record Feb. 5 when he scored 45 points in an 80-76 victory over Bloomington Kennedy.
Shanks, who transferred after his freshman season from Eastview, helped “erase our defensive mistakes,” Focke said. The seven-footer blocked shots around the basket, but Focke said he altered more shots than he blocked.
Sobaski, in turn, could gamble more on steal attempts at the perimeter, knowing he had that added protection in the paint.
Focke said he’s excited to have Sobaski back next year because of his leadership, scoring ability and knack for filling up other stats categories. In addition, Sobaski isn’t shy about taking teammates aside and doing extra sprints or shooting drills, the coach said.
“He’s the kind of kid you tell on a weekend to not be in the gym so much,” Focke said. “He just loves basketball and always wants to play whether it’s at the [recreation center] or wherever.”
That commitment from a point guard who leads the team on the court was infectious, Focke said.
The team lost by a point to Lakeville North at the end of January and then lost to Apple Valley later that week. The Lakers seemed on their way to a good-not-great season.
But Sobaski and Shanks both pointed to the loss to Lakeville North as a turning point of the season, where teammates got together afterward and decided enough was enough.
Their 9-2 finish to the regular season boosted them to third place in the South Suburban Conference.
Focke called the team’s section tournament loss “a disappointing end to a great season.”
Sobaski (26 points) and Shanks (17) scored nearly 70 percent of their team’s points in the game.
Sobaski still has his senior season to look forward to, and he recently committed to North Dakota State.
Shanks, committed before his junior season to play at Utah State. But he didn’t always know he’d play basketball beyond high school.
“I’ve always been huge. I had always been told I could have a future in basketball,” he said, It wasn’t until seventh or eighth grade, though, that he told himself, “If I want to play college basketball and not just be another tall guy, I’ve got to start working.”
“I committed myself to it, and it’s paid off,” he said.
Shanks said he’ll work on a strength program over the summer with the Aggies before they decide if he’ll compete as a true freshman or take a redshirt season.
Derek Wetmore is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.