In terms of talent, even Apple Valley coach Zach Goring would admit that he's had deeper teams. Talent doesn't always win out, however, and the Eagles proved Saturday night that one amazing player and a bunch of selfless teammates is a tough combination to beat.
With Tre Jones doing everything the Eagles needed — hitting a big shot, grabbing a rebound, droppig a timely assist — Apple Valley defeated previously undefeated Champlin Park 60-54 at Target Center for their third Class 4A boys' basketball championship in five years.
It's the second time in three seasons that the Eagles have ended the Rebels' shot at a perfect season. Apple Valley won the 2015 title by defeating a Champlin Park team that also was 31-0 at the time.
"I'm still a little bit in shock that we were able to do this with a different group of kids," Goring said. "I thought we could get to the state tournament this year. After that, I didn't know."
If basketball were an eye-test, Apple Valley (30-2) should not have been close to Champlin Park and its cadre of exceptional athletes. Luckily for the Eagles, there's no such thing as style points.
They were gritty and tough and efficient, and it worked. The Eagles scrapped and ran, elbowed when they had to and bumped when needed. They finished with a whopping 45-25 advantage in rebounds.
"That was the difference," Champlin Park coach Mark Tuchscherer said. "We didn't rebound nearly as well as we should have and they had too many putback opportunities."
Jones finished with 24 points, 18 rebounds and five assists. He outplayed his counterpart, McKinley Wright, who made only four of 15 shots from the floor and finished with 14 points.
"Tre has been the leader of this group, the stick that stirs the drink if you will, but everyone else just fills in around him so well," Goring said. "Tre just understands the game so well that he can put those guys in spots to be successful."
As well as Apple Valley played, Champlin Park (31-1) led 49-44 with 5 minutes, 59 seconds left. It looked like the Rebels would finally bring home the first team championship in the school's 25-year history.
Then Jones sparked the game-clinching 16-5 rally, getting six points, six rebounds and two assists down the stretch. Fittingly, he scored the most crucial basket, a layup with 50 seconds left that gave Apple Valley the lead for good at 56-54.
"Last year, we had maybe the most talented team we've ever had, but we just weren't focused coming ready every day," Jones said. "But this team, we were willing to work every day. By the end of the year, we knew what we had to do."
Jones has now won two state championships at Apple Valley while older brother Tyus won only one. Tre Jones was asked if this gives him bragging rights at home.
Jones broke into a huge smile.
"No, he's got a national championship," he said, "so he's still got me."