Osseo's Ian Theisen accepted, even reveled in, the offseason attention received for his big shot last March.
Theisen's 15-foot baseline jumper with no time remaining clinched the Class 4A state basketball title for the Orioles, igniting an on-court celebration that echoed throughout the summer in the congratulations and well-wishes of friends and strangers.
But as tryouts approached this season, Theisen put his memories in the vault and leveled with teammates.
"The guys coming up shouldn't be thinking, 'We're the defending state champs,'" Theisen said. "The guys who left are defending state champs. We need to prove this year that we can become as good as they are. That mindset is finally starting to sink in."
Humbling losses to Park Center and Apple Valley earlier this season and a resulting departure from the spotlight got Theisen's message across. Rather than sulk, the fifth-ranked Orioles (10-2) re-dedicated themselves to doing the little things well. Stalwarts Theisen and Bridgeport Tusler, a talented transfer and several emerging role players hope to put Osseo in contention for another title.
Next Tuesday's game against No. 8 Elk River is both a test and a checkpoint. The game concludes Osseo's first run through the Northwest Suburban Conference. Orioles coach Tim Theisen (no relation to Ian) said the second tour is a time for solidifying roles, shrinking the rotation and fine-tuning for the postseason.
Players such as Wheeler Baker, Rakeem Felder, Harrison Lucas and Malik Wilson have contributed in myriad ways.
Baker, a junior guard, leads the team with 15.4 points per game. A transfer from DeLaSalle after his freshman year left him ineligible to receive any varsity minutes last season. His perimeter-based game, scoring touch and emerging defense have been welcome additions.
Lucas, a guard, comes off the bench and provides offense, especially from three-point range. Wilson, a forward, averages 5.6 rebounds per game and adds an inside presence to complement Ian Theisen.
Felder, a second-team Star Tribune All-Metro selection last fall at defensive tackle, brings a relentless lineman's mentality to the court. Teammates refer to him as the Bull.
"He's the enforcer -- there is no doubt," Ian Theisen said. "He will elbow you. He will set the meanest pick on you ever. He's sweaty so you don't want to touch him. He's a good glue guy that really gets after it every single game."
Said Tim Theisen: "Rakeem is doing things I didn't imagine him doing," which includes banging inside and chipping in 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game thanks in part to a "crafty left hand."
Hoping to fill a role vacated by Cal Bloom and Will Johnson, Felder committed to 6 a.m. summer weight lifting sessions. He also enjoyed a solid AAU basketball season.
Ian Theisen (15.2 points, 11.6 rebounds per game) and Tusler (14.2 points) have also modified their game and expanded their roles as scorers. Last season, Theisen was prone to drift from the basket and ranked as the team's second-best three-point shooter. But Tim Theisen wants the 6-8 forward in the paint.
"I'm trying to dominate inside," Ian Theisen said. "I really can't be that dominant around the three-point line."
In his team's loss to Park Center on Dec. 18, Tusler busied himself with guarding Quinton Hooker while "waiting for [graduated players] DJ Hebert or Michael Brush to hit a shot."
The message was clear. Tusler had to take greater ownership of this team.
"My role has to change from last year even though we won with me in my role last year," said Tusler, who won virtually every major individual postseason football honor available, including being named Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.
Baker, who wore street clothes and watched Osseo's title run from the bench last spring, said this team is adjusting to the expectations.
"The championship brought a lot more attention to this team, good or bad," Baker said. "It's just a matter of, can we step up and play to the potential people know we have? We are not last year's state championship by any means. All different people have to step up. If we do that -- endless possibilities."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574