There have been 103 Minnesota high school boys’ basketball tournaments. It only seems like DeLaSalle has won them all.
With former Gophers assistant coach Dave Thorson storming the sideline in front of the bench, and Gophers recruit Jarvis Johnson driving into the lane, DeLaSalle beat St. Paul Johnson 82-64 Saturday in the Class 3A final at Target Center.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino watched from near the DeLaSalle bench, making this a feel-good local story in many ways: A great high school program wins a championship and sends its point guard to play for the local university, where his high school coach used to work.
The DeLaSalle student body even chanted, “Let’s go Gophers,” near the end of the game.
Afterward, outside the team locker room, Thorson came close to crying when talking about his seniors. It was touching.
But by the end of another blowout victory and a fourth state championship in a row — tying DeLaSalle with two other teams for the most consecutive state titles — you had to wonder if the Islanders could have done themselves a favor by keeping the score close.
Win close, and the story is the particulars of a dramatic victory.
Win big, again, and the question becomes:
Hasn’t DeLaSalle outgrown Class 3A?
Eden Prairie football, long accused of turning its inherent advantages into a powerhouse program, at least can’t be accused of avoiding the best possible competition, unless you, like a lot of high school football fans, think Eden Prairie should start playing junior colleges.
DeLaSalle could play in Class 4A and take on suburban powerhouses with similar talent. Instead, the Islanders continue to dominate Class 3A competition.
Props to the DeLaSalle kids, who played hard and well. Props to the Johnson kids, who made it to the state final without much size. They all deserved a chance to vie for championships. Just maybe not on the same court at the same time.
I asked Thorson if DeLaSalle would consider moving to Class 4A.
“We’ve talked about it,” he said. “It’s one of those thing, you never know what’s going to happen in terms of the guys you’re going to have, and that sort of stuff.
“We had some more serious discussions about it a couple of years ago …. It’s something we’ll probably talk about. We have a great administrative team — it’s not only my decision. We have a president, a principal and an activities director involved with that decision.”
Thorson made a good point: Maybe the next wave of DeLaSalle basketball players makes the Islanders a better fit for Class 3A. The past four years, with Jarvis Johnson running the offense and Marquette recruit Sacar Anim transforming himself from defensive stopper into star scorer, that has not been the case.
Championship games should feel like more than award ceremonies. Saturday’s game didn’t.
St. Paul Johnson kept the game close early, before DeLaSalle’s defensive intensity and offensive rebounding allowed the Islanders to take command. It wasn’t much of a game after 10 minutes. Anim finished with 32 points and 10 rebounds. Johnson scored just nine on 3-for-9 shooting, causing Thorson to say, “Jarvis does what a team needs him to do. All he does is drive the DeLaSalle car perfectly, and he’s driven it to four straight state championships. That’s the only statistic I’m interested in.”
Thorson has done masterful work. His team plays hard, with intelligence, shares the ball and maintains its composure.
“I’m so proud of the five seniors and what they’ve meant to the program,” Thorson said. “It’s a powerful thing.”
DeLaSalle is so good you’d like to see the Islanders playing in the later time slot on Championship Saturday.
DeLaSalle became the third school to win four consecutive state championships. Minneapolis Henry did it from 2000-03, also in Class 3A. Southwest Minnesota Christian did it 1999-2002 in Class 1A.
Maybe that history should dictate DeLaSalle’s future.
If the Islanders can win five straight, without Anim and Johnson, that would be a signal to seek a higher level of competition.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at souhanunfiltered.com. On