Practice last week offered a glimpse into what led the Osseo boys' basketball team to an 11-0 start this season.
Players working on drawing charging fouls crashed to the floor. Teammates battling for loose balls dived and slid across the court. One player stood up and smiled while rubbing his elbow to soothe a little floor burn pain.
No Orioles player taller than 6-4 gets regular minutes. For a team lacking height, unyielding effort and unselfish play are required to keep a state tournament run within reach.
"We're not tall," Osseo coach Tim Theisen said. "We're scrappy. We have to win the 50-50 battles and so far that's what we've done."
Victories against solid programs such as Eden Prairie, Park Center and Armstrong have showcased Osseo's formula of playing tough defense while sharing the ball on offense.
The goal is holding the opposing team to 57 points or fewer. Theisen tallied the results of Osseo's important games the past several seasons and found his team won about 80 percent of the time when opposition didn't score higher than the mid-50s. Turnovers are aiding the Orioles' cause. Theisen said the team forces almost 22 turnovers per game.
On offense, four players average double-digits in scoring: Zach Theisen (15.6), Damario Armstrong (12.7), Kameron Bettie (12.4) and Allan Anderson (11.7). Two other players, Dontae Jones (9.0) and John Bezdicek (8.5), aren't far away.
"If we keep having basically five guys averaging double figures, we're going to be one of the most dominant teams in the state," said Anderson, a senior guard.
Offensive success starts with a team-first mentality.
"Our biggest thing is sharing the ball, making the extra pass and giving up a good shot for a great shot," Armstrong said.
Armstrong helped Maranatha Christian Academy to a runner-up finish at the Class 1A state tournament last March.
A co-op agreement between Maranatha and Osseo in football meant Armstrong suited up for the Orioles as a junior. He transferred to Osseo this year, when he became a valuable player in Osseo's surprise run to the Class 6A Prep Bowl championship in November.
Adding Armstrong, a guard, to the basketball team is paying immediate dividends.
"The expectations were high once we knew that we were going to have a guy like Damario come in," Anderson said. "He's provided a spark for us."
Armstrong is one of six football players on the basketball roster. Together, they provide a mental edge.
"I've definitely got a winning attitude, and I feel like the football championship put the spirit in all the players that it's possible to do it," Armstrong said. "The whole town just has a winning atmosphere. We go into every game hungry and never underestimating an opponent."
Except once. Osseo trailed 32-26 at halftime against Buffalo and players got an earful.
"We were kind of being lazy," Armstrong said. "We had the attitude, coming off a lot of wins, that we could just show up."
Osseo roared back to win 71-46. But the lesson stuck.
"We're not a big team, so we're going to get exposed if we play like that," Anderson said. "The goal is trying to be undefeated for the whole season. We've got to keep working at it."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574