The Prairie Seeds Academy boys’ basketball team engaged in some five-on-five play at a recent practice. Movement was constant, with echoes of squeaking shoes and an occasional shout of “good D” from coach Quincy Caldwell.
Then a few players subbed in, one wearing a black T-shirt with white lettering on the back: “Players Nobody Wanted.” They wore the shirts last season through their Class 1A, Section 4 final loss to Minneapolis North.
“We call ourselves the players nobody wanted,” Caldwell said. “They’re a bunch of kids that everybody thought couldn’t play, didn’t want. So I took them in.”
At Prairie Seeds, a Brooklyn Park charter school, they all have their own stories about coming from different areas where coaches didn’t think they were good enough to play, according to seniors Brian Robinson and Daveon Gibson.
“So we came here,” Gibson said. “[Caldwell] built in us that we’re good enough. Our confidence is through the roof.”
It’s not all about basketball, either.
“It’s about us becoming young men,” said Robinson, adding that they wouldn’t be who they are without the help of coaches and teachers who believe in them.
Caldwell has created a basketball program in which the most important thing is having his players believe in themselves. He calls himself an “unconventional coach” who doesn’t focus on systems or even X’s and O’s. As long as players are mentally healthy and believe in themselves, he said, they can accomplish a lot.
While the team averages a relatively small 6-1 in height, the Lycans make up for it with what Caldwell calls NBA-like conditioning drills and quickness.
“That’s kind of the blueprint of what we’ve built here,” he said. “We’re probably the shortest … fastest, grittiest team in the state of Minnesota.”
It’s his third year at Prairie Seeds, which has improved under his direction. Two years ago, the Lycans were 15-7 and lost in the first round of the section playoffs. Last year they lost six games, including to the eventual Class 1A champion Polars.
This year the core group is back, including Robinson and Gibson. Caldwell predicts both will be 1,000-point career scorers by season’s end. Robinson was at 969 career points after their game last Tuesday. Gibson, who averaged 16 points per game last season, is at 549.
Robinson is underrated and “probably the most overlooked basketball player in the state of Minnesota,” Caldwell said. He can shoot, handle the ball and has a tenacious defensive intensity, according to his coach.
Gibson, “a Charles Barkley,” can rebound, shoot the three-pointer and play the post for a solid all-around game and is a matchup nightmare, Caldwell said.
Points aside, defense is where the pride lies with this team. Robinson said he and Gibson lead by example. They help their teammates, communicate and take responsibility to make sure opponents don’t get anything too easily, according to Gibson.
“We make that our No. 1 goal,” Robinson said. “Defend our basket.”
Caldwell calls it “36 minutes of hell,” with a full-court press that makes opponents run and tire out. They’re in NBA shape, allowing them to play a sustainable defense, Caldwell said.
Still, a primary focus for this coach remains the mental health of his players and trying to get them to erase any worries or fears.
“Sometimes we wouldn’t even dribble a basketball the whole practice [last season],” he said. “We would just talk.”
The Lycans already are eyeing a Class 1A state championship. Every game they play, Robinson said, he looks at Minneapolis North. It’s a motivator.
“What drives us this year is that loss that we took,” Gibson said. “That hurt because we worked so hard to get there.”
They’re on their way so far, with victories over the Minnesota Academy for the Deaf, a big victory over Class 4A opponent Cooper on Dec. 9 and an 81-80 victory against St. Paul Como Park last Tuesday. Caldwell knows their conference is considered weak, but he also said there’s no team in Class 1A that is built to defeat them.
So, these “players that nobody wanted” weren’t respected, Caldwell said, adding that people look at them and say they left other schools because they weren’t good enough to play. He welcomes those players.
“And I’m going to show you how to play this game,” Caldwell said. “I’m going to show you how to believe in yourself.”