Park Center plays an extra-fast brand of basketball. What has made it special in this memorable season is the passing and finishing that has taken place as the Pirates zoomed at full speed.
A common trait in this modern era of basketball for teams that push the pace is to have players maintain their dribble and make the pass to an open man on the wing too late.
And finishing … don’t get us old-timers started on the missed layups in today’s game.
This hadn’t been the case with the Park Center Pirates in March 2013.
The Pirates had been fabulous at finishing the break in blowing out Edina on Thursday night in the state Class 4A semifinals. This was mentioned to Quinton Hooker after the game. He nodded and said: “That’s not an accident. In our practices, if you miss a layup, you run.’’
There were no laps around the gym after Saturday night’s title game with Apple Valley. The Pirates ran into a team as quick, and much bigger and more physical up front.
The Pirates couldn’t get to the basket, and when they did, the shots were being swatted away by 6-foot-10 freshman Brock Bertram. National recruit Tyus Jones ran the Eagles’ offense in his usual grand style, Harry Sonie did a tremendous job against Hooker defensively, and Apple Valley its first state title — 74-57.
It also would have been a first for Park Center. And even without that title, it will not diminish the legacy that the 6-foot senior, Hooker, has left at Park Center.
He led these Pirates farther than any team in the school’s 42 years of boys’ basketball. He also has helped to bind together a diverse student body.
The high school located in Brooklyn Park has an enrollment for grades 9 to 12 of 1,471. The students are 70 percent minority — mostly African-Americans, Somalians, Liberians and Hmong.
“I could go on for the next 45 minutes about Quinton,’’ said Larry Lawler, Park Center’s athletic director. “He’s a great athlete and an honor roll student. But the best thing about Quinton is that he takes an interest in everyone.’’
Hooker’s two older sisters, Brehana and Chelsia, were outstanding students and athletes at Park Center. His brother Amani, the lone freshman on the varsity, has a big future with the Pirates.
Quinton’s talent was obvious by the sixth grade. There was a thought one of the high-profile hoops programs — be it public or private — would draw Hooker by the time he reached ninth grade.
“No names, but I’m sure there were other schools that would’ve loved to have him,’’ Lawler said. “Quinton’s decision to stay at Park Center, to keep playing with kids he grew up with, meant everything to this school and community.’’
Hooker’s skills as a youngster were partially responsible for a change in athletics policy in the enormous District 279. Previously, a student had to be in the ninth grade to compete in varsity athletics at Park Center, Osseo or Maple Grove high schools.
Hooker was ready to play varsity basketball as an eighth grader. There were discussions within the school district. And a new policy was formed:
An eighth-grader can now try out for high school sports, but he or she has to make a varsity team. If not on the varsity, they revert to junior high competition.
Park Center was trying to repeat its 72-70 victory over Apple Valley on Dec. 8 on Saturday night. Instead, Apple Valley and Jones wiped away their only loss of the season. Jones did this in front of Tom Izzo, the Michigan State coach who badly wants Tyus and was in Target Center about three hours after the Spartans had advanced to the Sweet 16.
Hooker has not dealt with such big-time adoration. He signed with North Dakota last fall.
“I visited the campus, loved it, and the coaches and everyone else made it clear how much they wanted me,’’ he said.
Quinton then repeated the advice offered by John Turner, a former Vikings defensive back and now an administrative assistant at Park Center: “J.T. told me, ‘Love those who love you.’ That’s another reason I’ll be at North Dakota.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.