In four possessions during crunch time of Champlin Park’s recent victory over Maple Grove, J.T. Gibson scored three baskets and assisted on another as the top-ranked Rebels broke a tie and cruised to 73-58 victory over the third-ranked Crimson.
But instead of pounding his own chest, Gibson — who scored a game-high 20 points — prefers to pat his teammates on the back.
“If I see openings, I take them,” said Gibson, a 6-2 senior guard who has committed to play Division I basketball for Nebraska Omaha. “I try to make the right plays. That’s what great players do. It’s not all about me, though, it’s about the team.”
Champlin Park is undefeated (18-0), with victories over current Class 4A top 10 teams Apple Valley, Maple Grove, Robbinsdale Armstrong, Hopkins and Cretin-Derham Hall. It also defeated Wisconsin power Rice Lake.
Champlin Park coach Mark Tuchscherer, in his ninth year leading the Rebels, said the key to the team’s success has been playing a team-oriented game defined by moving the basketball on offense and intensity on defense.
“It might be a cliché, but for us, team means ‘together everybody achieves more.’ We stole that from somebody, but it’s something I’ve been trying to do here since I’ve been coach,” Tuchscherer said. “We have great individual players. Some of these guys could average 30 points a night. But, they’ve bought into the system of sharing the ball and getting the wins.”
Champlin Park has four players scoring in double figures. The Rebels are led by Gibson — a Minnesota Mr. Basketball front-runner — who is averaging 18.8 points per game. Senior guard Marty Hill is second on the team at 16.6 points. Sophomore guard McKinley Wright is averaging 13.6 points and senior guard Jeremy Johnson scores 12.7 per game.
A fifth player — 6-foot-7 sophomore center Theo John — is scoring 8.9 points along with six rebounds and four blocks per contest and has rthe makings of a Division I prospect.
The number of weapons Champlin Park can go to makes the Rebels a nightmare to defend. Gibson has starred in some big games, scoring 28 points at Hopkins and 38 at Apple Valley. But his teammates can’t be overlooked. Hill led the way with 25 points at Armstrong, Johnson scored 20 against Rice Lake and Wright scored 17 points at Cretin-Derham Hall.
Sharing the basketball and making the extra pass is something Tuchscherer said he stresses, and something Champlin Park works on, every day. The Rebels average 19 assists a game.
“When we pass the ball and move it, they can’t stop us because we have so many scorers,” Tuchscherer said. “That’s the team aspect we talk about. It’s a credit to the players. They’re willing to do that in order to win games and to try to win a state championship. The guys buy into playing team basketball and that’s what makes us so tough, I think.”
Champlin Park has averaged more than 20 victories a season in the past 10 years, but has only two state tournament appearances. Last year the 25-3 Rebels lost to Osseo in overtime in the Class 4A, Section 5 championship game.
Gibson said the loss to Osseo is “fuel to the fire” as the Rebels not only gun for a state tournament appearance, but the school’s first state title as well.
“We felt like we had a great chance to do it last year, but we came up short,” Gibson said. “This year it’s either win a state championship or nothing else.”
Tuchscherer said Champlin Park’s No. 1 goal is “to win the last game of the season.” He said his team talks about it every day.
Does Tuchscherer believe he has a championship team?
“Most definitely,” he said. “But, we have to go out and prove it.”