Boys Basketball Team Makes History, Gears Up For Sections

Team Mentality Fosters Winning Culture

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Oscar Walsh

Five year coach Tyler Biwan says “Our guys are ones who will hang around a little bit after practice and goof around and we promote that as coaches. We want our guys to come early, stay late because being in hybrid mode right now, for many of them that’s the only time they’ll see each other everyday. We’re gracious that we get that opportunity and we harness that by hanging around pre and post practice.”

Noor Naseer, Co-Editor-in-Chief

     Currently ranked number four in class AA, the boys’ basketball team is making history. Not only is this the highest the team has ever been ranked, but they also have a record of 15-2, with losses against Minnehaha Academy and Edina High School. This is Tyler Biwan’s fifth year as Head Coach, and he reflects on the transformation the team has undergone in recent years saying, “I would say a big thing is just an overall culture shift. The year prior to [my] joining, the varsity team won five games, and really the culture that was a part of that, some words I could use to describe it, [are] a lack of caring, some lack of effort associated with it…Obviously our guys have become better basketball players, but they’ve also become just so much more invested in the program.”

     Four year starter and captain, Jasper Liu ‘21, has grown with the program and shares, “It was super painful in the beginning. We weren’t winning a lot and it was just not fun at all when you consistently keep losing, but we started winning a lot and it’s just really fun [when] all that hard work finally pays off.” Robert Grace ‘21 adds, “We’ve been on the news three times this year, and we’ve also had numerous media outlets come to our games this year for the first time. It’s super dope that we’ve been getting the recognition that we finally deserve because we were pretty bad previous years, but each year we’ve just been getting better and better and I think it’s cool to see that pay off.”

     The team’s success this season can be attributed to the experience and leadership of senior captains Liu, Grace, and Gabe Ganz ‘21, who have all been starters since their freshman year, along with junior captain and three year starter, Theo Liu ‘22. Additionally, Biwan speaks to the impact that unselfish play has had on the team’s success saying, “We’ve been setting a lot of assist records, which speaks to these guys being unselfish, looking to get each other opportunities versus trying to promote themselves. That’s also the sign of a really good team when everyone continues to be unselfish versus only caring about themselves.” Grayson Okoronkwo ‘24 adds that the team’s success has resulted from, “Not worrying about scoring because once that happens, then the whole team is probably going to fall apart.”

     Max Hubler ‘22 shares that the players’ success on the court can also be attributed to their friendships off the court: “We all like each other a lot, so it makes it really fun to go to practice and also play games especially. We’re all friends off the basketball court. We hang out a lot, we go get food and stuff, so having a close relationship with everyone…there’s not one kid that any of us could be put in a room with that we wouldn’t like. It just makes the camaraderie really easy and it makes it really fun to play.”

     Because COVID-19 has limited the team bonding activities the team can do, Theo Liu  explains that he has been “Cherishing the time that we do have together…people usually stay after practice and just shoot around and hang out because it’s kind of the only time we get to spend together. It’s definitely been different, there’s not a lot we can do, but just making the most of the time that we do have.” Hubler echoes this saying, “No one really likes the bus rides, but this year it feels a little bit more enjoyable to just be in a space with all of us and be together…this year it’s a special moment to hang out with each other.”

     As the players gear up for their quarterfinal game against either Holy Family or Breck on March 20, they have all shifted to RTLP in order to ensure that they don’t get quarantined. Theo Liu explains that in contrast to the abrupt end to their season last year, “We want to at least let our chances [be] up to us and not have it be decided by somebody else or not being able to play.” 

     Okoronkwo explains how the team is working to improve saying, “We’re trying to focus on rebounding, playing defense, midline help, and finishing the ball well [and]  we’re struggling… with shooting.” Biwan explains that shooting posed a challenge during their games against Minnehaha and Edina: “We’ve talked about if our shots aren’t dropping from the outside, what are different ways that we can look to score, [and] just placing an emphasis on getting to the basket, versus getting frustrated and seeing our shots actually get worse throughout the game.”

     Another challenge that the bears are looking to combat in sections is the physicality of their opponents. According to Biwan, “All those teams are going to be very physical and slightly bigger than us, and that’s been a common theme for us. We don’t have anyone taller than Theo at 6’4”, so we’ve always had to just be prepared for teams to try and be more physical than us. That’s really the key theme going into sections. We saw it against Edina; they were more physical than we were, and we weren’t quite ready for it, so it was a good wake up call.”

    Looking ahead to the rest of the season, the bears’ goal is to win the state championship “and nothing less,” according to Jasper Liu. Biwan adds, “[This] definitely all starts with winning our first quarterfinal game on Saturday…come sections, everyone is ready to give it their all. So win each game and take it game by game, and hopefully by the end, we’ll be cutting down the nets.”