Posted On: 06/27/18 12:17 PM
The Princeton Tigers were 20 game winners a year ago and bring nearly everything back for the 18-19 season. Are they a Class AAA contender? The teams that they defeated this weekend think so.
Doing it the Right Way
The Princeton Tigers basketball program has been putting in the work for a long time. Summer weekend after summer weekend they for the last several years they have been playing in weekend tournaments. This same program has also put their team in AAU tournaments over the years gaining experience. The youth movement has been strong at camps, events, and everything else.
For a long time results weren’t there: 9-17, 5-22, 11-17, and 7-21 were the recent records piling up. Finally there was a breakthrough. Finally all the work paid off as a team with talent and chemistry led the way building a 20 win season in 2017-18. That’s not enough for this crew though, and why would it be? Princeton was invited to the Breakdown Summer State Tournament and they won the event beating Robbinsdale Cooper, Mankato East, and Mahtomedi, all top ten level teams in Class AAA next year who seemed to have all of their key guys.
Why does this work for Princeton? Balance. This team has a good part in all sports on the floor. An immovable big with the skills to score? That’s Jon Stimmler. Big Jon was the leading scorer in one of the games using his low post touch to put a 20 spot in the books. Point guard? James Flicek had one of the best performances of the event hitting four early threes in the the title game against the Zephyrs and pushing that to 32 points and six threes.
Flicek is like Harry Potter when he’s playing Quidditch; faster than the rest on the floor but with a wizardry to his playmaking. James can score, he can dish, or he can do a lot of both. And the wing the Tigers have sharp shooter Adam Williams as a two guard and now Reilly O’Neill as a stretch forward, both of which can catch and make. This is a top five team in Class AAA at least next year, watch out Minnesota!
Zephyrs Showing Consistency
Coach Keith Newman has built up a program at Mahtomedi that at one point was only considered a “football school” and made them consistent winners. Five years ago the Zephyrs were an under .500 team but 19 wins, 19 wins, 24 wins, and then last year 21 games were won despite so many players graduated. The Zephyrs were always considered a tough team over the years but now they have added skilled players and talented prospects to their description. Guys like Nuni Omot (Baylor), Parker Fox (Northern State), Sean Hjelle (Kentucky baseball), and now J’Vonne Hadley.
J’Vonne had a fantastic sophomore year and this spring playing with Gain Elite 16s Hadley has proven that he is a top 15-20 level player in this state and over the weekend Hadley backed that up once again. Hadley scored 31 points in the championship game against Princeton as he was the one player that the Tigers did’t have an answer for. Hadley’s combination of skill, size, and agility gave him an edge over nearly everyone that tried to guard him this weekend.
But wait, there is more. Zac Centers and Devin Melzer are two more experienced players and Cole Chapman stands about 6-foot-9 in the post. This team has the pieces and confidence (plus the coaching) to have another strong season.
Big Nine Stays Strong
Most programs do not have the depth to take the losses that Austin and Mankato East did when caps and gowns were worn earlier this month. But as many found out this weekend, Austin and Mankato East will not fall far.
Austin defeated Cooper and Totino-Grace at the Breakdown Summer Showcase without the graduated seniors AND they didn’t have the Deng brothers (Dongrin and Ngor) – the second and third learning returning scorers – who were at a camp in Texas. But Austin switched some things up throwing a man to man at teams, found scoring from Moses Idris, Medi Obang, and others, and won a pair of games. When they are at full strength this Packers team will once again be a top ten squad and win 20 games.
As far as Mankato East goes, the 2020 core group of Jax Madson, Joich Gong, and Jordan Merseth were all key pieces from last year and all return. Madison is a three point weapon and a player that makes few mistakes, Gong is a playmaking slasher, and Merseth is a high percentage finisher in the point.
A Big to Know
Waseca dropped a game to Mahtomedi but don’t let that fool you, this will be a top five level team this year in Class AAA. The regular Jays headline is that Malik Willingham is a player that will be a Mr. Basketball candidate on some level and one of the toughest guards in the 2019 class. He made eight threes against Totino-Grace and makes a great pair with Nick Dufault.
Andrew Morgan is the player that caught our attention this weekend. At 6-foot-7 in the 2021 class Morgan has been well schooled in the art of the screen and roll. He does a great job timing his run, Andrew has fantastic hands, and the finish is always done in a soft way. Andrew moves very well at 6-foot-7 and we love how well he moves around the court not just agility wise but his understanding of the half court offense. Morgan will be a highly ranked 2021 player.