With a Class 2A championship and a young, talented lineup that all but ensures long-term success, Minnehaha Academy coach Lance Johnson knows there will be critics casting sidelong glances at his team.
Private school champions tend to generate criticism, deserved or not.
“This has been something that has been coming on for a while,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a history of success at Minnehaha. This is not the first good team we’ve had.”
Johnson attended the school and is the dean of students at the Upper School, one of two campuses located near the Mississippi River in south Minneapolis. He says there’s more to the story than critics care to notice.
“The kids that are there right now are super academically interested,” he said. “You look at our best players, Javonni [Bickham] and Jalen [Suggs], they’re 3.0 students. Their parents wanted to send them to a school that was spiritual Christian, academically strong and have a decent basketball program. That’s why kids come to Minnehaha Academy.”
Suggs, considered the nation’s top freshman point guard, has seen his profile rise at Minnehaha Academy. He scoffs at the notion that basketball is the sole reason he’s there.
“It’s a great school with great academics. It’s not basketball at all,’’ he said. “Classroom comes first. They’re setting us up for college and life after that.”
Athletic director Josh Thurow, who coaches the girls’ basketball team, stressed the school’s environment as its biggest selling point.
“If you spent one day in our school, you’d understand why somebody would want to come here,” he said. “When it’s chapel time, all the kids just drop their bags outside and don’t worry about anybody stealing anything out of it. It’s a friendly place, a welcome place. I appreciated my public school upbringing, but anybody who goes there gets their money’s worth.”
Suggs, who grew up in St. Paul and started at Minnehaha in seventh grade, said he can’t see himself anywhere else.
“This is where I was destined to be,” he said.