The two best teams in Class 4A. Multiple division I prospects. A packed gymnasium that had to turn spectators away.
Sounds great, right? And No. 2-ranked Hopkins' 89-81 victory over No. 1 Apple Valley in the Breakdown Sports Tip-Off Classic certainly lived up to fans' expectations.
It was also essentially meaningless.
Oh sure, there were rankings and bragging rights and egos at stake, but this early in the season, neither coach was overly concerned with the outcome.
"Like I told our guys before the game, this didn't mean too much," Hopkins coach Ken Novak Jr. said. "I mean, at this point, we really don't have that much installed. We're still working on catching and squaring up."
That's not to say that Novak and the Royals didn't learn a few things. They learned that they can be successful even when falling behind. They learned that they're a much better team when they hit shots from the outside (who isn't?). And they learned that Apple Valley is a team they'll likely face again, only with much more on the line.
"The big thing is, the kids competed," Novak said. "They figured out how to succeed when things aren't going their way."
They didn't go Hopkins' way for most of the first half. Apple Valley relied on center Brock Bertram's inside presence and Gary Trent Jr.'s array of offensive moves to take a 36-26 lead midway through the first half.
Undaunted, Hopkins continued to move the ball well on offense, particularly when 6-8 senior guard Amir Coffey was in charge, and suddenly its shots began falling. The Royals hit five three-pointers and finished the first half on a 19-4 run to take a 45-40 halftime lead.
"And they weren't just any three-pointers. They were long threes," Apple Valley coach Zach Goring said. "We guarded out to the three-point line. We just didn't extend it 2 feet past the line."
Hopkins built its lead to 55-41 early in the second half before Apple Valley responded. The Eagles started spacing their offense better and relocated the 7-foot Bertram, who made all six of his shots in the second half, leading an Eagles' rally that eventually tied the score at 70.
"We had a little bit too much one-on-one in the first half," Goring said.
But Hopkins never flinched. The Royals continued to push the ball and built the lead back to eight points twice, including the final margin. Five Hopkins players finished in double figures, led by Coffey's 22 points.
"We showed a lot of resiliency," Coffey said. "Basketball is a game of runs. You just have to keep playing and keep attacking."
Victory or not, Novak wasn't convinced the best team won:
"Apple Valley is a very good team. I still think they're the best team in the state."