A breakout season for a junior guard and a winning mentality have the Panthers' boys basketball team thinking big.
Expectations are high in all sports at Lakeville North right now. Boys' basketball is no exception, even with only three returning to this year's squad.
That trio -- Zach Creighton, Kyrell Newell and Grant Erickson -- all played on this fall's Class 6A runner-up Panthers football team.
"I think we just have that winning mentality," said Erickson, a cornerback with the football team and senior guard and captain on the basketball team. "We hate to lose."
Basketball coach John Oxton sees that frame of mind in the school halls and on the basketball court. Not a bad attitude to have floating throughout the locker rooms.
"We've been winning a lot here in Lakeville North High School in general, whether it be basketball, football -- whatever," Oxton said. "I think our kids have high expectations just naturally. Kids feel a little pressure and a little excitement to uphold that."
What many didn't expect from the Panthers this season was the breakout performance from junior guard J.P. Macura, who has emerged as one of the state's top scoring threats. Even Oxton was caught a bit off guard.
"To be honest, I didn't realize J.P. would be quite this good," Oxton said. "Because he's been that good, I think it's allowed us to raise our expectations a little bit."
Macura, who played on the junior varsity last season, is averaging 27 points per game. No previous Lakeville North player has averaged more than 17 or 18 points.
"He's a phenomenal shooter," Oxton said. "He's an unbelievably gifted offensive player. We've never had a player like this."
Macura's development from last year and into AAU season was exponential. By the middle of June, Macura already had started getting Division I scholarship offers. This fall and winter, coaches from one school after another have been showing up to open gyms, games and practices.
"His stock just kept rising and rising and rising," Oxton said. "This is a kid that had generated scholarship offers before playing even one game of varsity basketball."
Macura has been offered by South Dakota State, North Dakota State, North Dakota, Wyoming, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and others. Representatives from the Gophers, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa recently have shown up to watch the talented junior.
Macura joins the returning trio of Creighton, Erickson and Newell, along with junior forward Bronson Bruneau, to complete the starting five. Together, they compiled an 12-3 record through Tuesday's 66-65 victory over South Suburban Conference rival Prior Lake.
Erickson plays the point and is averaging 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game. Newell is a defensive force and can also take the point. Creighton is a solid shooting guard who is averaging in double figures. Bruneau is rebounding and defending well.
In a game against Class 4A, No. 2 Apple Valley on Jan. 15, the Panthers led by 10 at one point before the Eagles jumped ahead to a 16-point lead in the second half. Lakeville North rallied to send the game into overtime but Apple Valley prevailed 79-75.
"We were happy with our effort but we weren't satisfied," Erickson said. "But we know we're right there with the top teams, and that's not a bad feeling to have."
The Panthers look poised to make moves this winter.
"Our goal is to win a state championship, no doubt," Erickson said. "But we have to take it step by step and not look too far into the future. We have to take every game one at a time."