A team with a No. 1 seed and zero losses in its first 30 games did not advance to the Class 4A boys’ basketball championship game.

A team with four Division I recruits, championship pedigree and a Top 25 national ranking didn’t get there either.

Osseo and Apple Valley had terrific seasons. Just not good enough to win a big-school state championship.

That says a lot about the status of high school basketball in this state. The final game of the season Saturday night was a fine advertisement, too.

Lakeville North and Hopkins displayed the level of competitive fight you’d expect from a state championship game. Both teams represented themselves well.

Hopkins proved to be the class of Class 4A, though. The Royals were relentless on defense and played at a sonic pace in a 64-55 victory.

This state tournament offered another reminder that Minnesota has come a long way in the overall quality of basketball.

As Minnesotans, we love to romanticize the boys’ hockey state tournament, justifiably so. That showcase of hockey talent and crazy hair bonds the state every March, a cool spectacle that feels more like a celebration than state tournament.

As much pride as we take in our self-assigned marketing nickname “State of Hockey,” the caliber of basketball talent here isn’t exactly chopped liver.

“If you don’t have a Division I player, you can hardly compete at the state tournament level,” Lakeville North coach John Oxton said. “Everybody has them.”

Lakeville North has one in 6-10 junior Nathan Reuvers, who holds more than a dozen scholarship offers, including from Wisconsin and the Gophers after Richard Pitino finally got on board this week.

Division I factory Hopkins features Gophers recruit Amir Coffey, a 6-8 nationally ranked guard.

Apple Valley’s starting unit included one of the nation’s top juniors (Gary Trent Jr.) and top sophomores (Tre Jones) and two seniors who will play Division I (Brock Bertram and Cameron Kirksey).

Maple Grove’s 6-10 center Reed Nikko has signed with Missouri. Crimson junior point guard Brad Davison is collecting Division I offers, including Nebraska and Northern Iowa.

In Class 3A, DeLaSalle’s Goanar Mar is ranked among the top 150 juniors in the country.

“We could take a Minnesota all-star team and play anyone in the country,” DeLaSalle coach Dave Thorson said.

Thorson and his coaching brethren are biased in their appraisals, obviously, but the growth in talent is undeniable.

Minnesota has produced elite recruits over the years, players who have gone to top programs and excelled. Most recently, the Big Three of Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis put a lot of eyes on the state hoops scene.

The biggest change has occurred in the overall depth of talent. There are more good players than ever, certainly far more than when I covered high schools for this newspaper back in 2000.

Stronger travel programs and AAU have been game-changers. More kids play basketball year-round. They’re more physically gifted thanks to specialized training. They shoot the ball better.

High school basketball is simply a far better product now, beyond the handful of elite programs.

“Basketball used to be a seasonal sport in this state,” Osseo coach Tim Theisen said. “That’s not the case anymore. The depth of talent in this state is unbelievable.”

That upturn should benefit the Gophers program. And no, this is not one of those provincial screeds about recruiting more Minnesota kids. Pitino and every Gophers coach in any sport are allowed to recruit whomever and wherever they so desire. It’s their job on the line.

But any argument about a scarcity of basketball talent in this state is flat wrong. Maybe once upon a time, but not now.

“I still think people don’t respect the state of Minnesota and how much basketball talent is here,” said former Gopher Kevin Lynch, a former Mr. Basketball winner who led Bloomington Jefferson to two state titles.

“The middle group of kids is way better than when we were in high school because they specialize and they play more.”

Osseo is a perfect example. The Orioles won 30 consecutive games before losing in the semifinals on the strength of a nine-man rotation. Osseo’s ninth man led the team in scoring three times this season.

“Everyone just thinks we play hockey up here,” Osseo guard Demario Armstrong said. “We’ve got some ballers, too.”

Sounds like a perfect bumper-sticker slogan for the basketball crowd.

 

Chip Scoggins chip.scoggins@startribune.com