Posted On: 08/29/18 3:05 PM

Summer is, for all intents and purposes, over. With fall sports starting up this week and schools starting up in the next week or two, we bid adieu to sunshine and brace for the cold winter months ahead.

With school on the mind, let’s turn briefly to the upcoming school ball season.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what hoops in Class AAAA will look like this upcoming year:

Big Points

Who is No. 1?

Several teams could make a good case to be the top team going into the season in Class AAAA. For my money, Eden Prairie gets the slight edge because they’ve got the most returning talent led by the quartet of now-juniors Drake Dobbs, Austin Andrews, Connor Christensen and John Henry. Andrews and Dobbs both averaged about 18 points per game as sophomores and had success playing for D1 Minnesota this summer. Christiansen averaged 11 during the year and 15 per in three games at the state tournament. And Henry put up 12 points per game while supplying top-notch shooting and very good defense.

The Eagles went to state a year ago and they’ll need to replace a couple really good glue guys including Kyler Kluge — but their combination of experience, depth and talent make them as good a team as any in the state.

Hopkins is never short on talent and the Royals will have plenty of it again this winter. Zeke Nnaji enjoyed a strong junior year and blew up this summer playing with D1 Minnesota. He’s joined by Kerwin Walton, who averaged 11.5 points per game a year ago as a Sophomore. Walton had his share of success with the D1 16s this summer. Zane Zimmer is a do-it-all type. Andy Stafford is an active wing and sophomore guards Jalen Tremel and Andre Gray are players to watch as well.

The team that might have the most individual talent in the state might actually be East Ridge. Courtney Brown is a to-be four-year starter and has averaged 20 points per game the last two years. Ben Carlson’s been on high-major college radar for a while and put up 19 points per game as a sophomore. And perhaps the best prospect on the team is sophomore guard Kendall Brown, who averaged 11.5 points per game as a freshman. That trio along with a cast of solid returners including Zach Zebrowski and Patrick Lynott will lead East Ridge to a lot of wins

High Major Talent in Abundance

While the 2019 class may not be as robust in high major talent as the 2017 or 2018 groups, it’s certainly not short on high-end talent. Add in the top shelf talent that the 2020 class has and it’ll still take an incredible amount of talent to win games. 

Rochester John Marshall and Lakeville North will likely be on a collision course in Section 1 for the seventh straight season. Matthew Hurt put up ridiculous numbers a year ago and will have the opportunity to do more of the same this season — though his supporting cast may be a bit better this winter. The Panthers return two double figure scorers in Tyler Wahl and Tommy Jensen.

Park Center and Prior Lake will ride future D1 bigs to whatever end this season. Dain Dainja averaged 13 points per game as a sophomore and while he may not put up huge numbers because his style of play doesn’t necessarily match perfectly with Park Center’s typical uptempo style, he’s a heck of a weapon when the Pirates do want to slow things down. 

Prior Lake can roll out two future D1 bigs in Dawson Garcia and Robert Jones. Garcia broke out last year, averaging 21.5 points per game and he took his game another level this summer with the D1 16s. Jones is a big, physical center who put up 13 points per game and played well with the D1 17s this summer. Add point guard Sam Nissen to the mix and the Lakers will be a force to be reckoned with.

Best of the Rest?

Wayzata’s gone to state each of the last two seasons and might have the best backcourt in the state with seniors Jacob Beeninga and Luke Paulson. Underclassmen Camden Heide and Cody Williams are players to watch now and for a while. The Trojans return six of their top eight players.

Shakopee could be primed for a comeback season after relying on a lot of underclassmen a year ago. Charles Katona is one of the best players in the 2020 class and averaged 19 points per game last season. Caleb Truvenga and Will Cordes both averaged double figures in scoring as well and should provide excitement from the backcourt.

Cretin-Derham Hall won the state title mostly on the back of an incredible senior class. The Raiders won’t be the powerhouse they were but they’ll be formidable thanks in large part to a couple of really good transfers. Trejuan Holloman will be just a freshman but he’s good enough to make a big impact on both ends of the floor and Karsten Broadley was a go-to guy for a good Fosston team a year ago to bolster the frontcourt. Those two join returning starter Jaeden King as well as backup forward Amari Carter. And the Raiders have a ton of young talent in their system. They won’t dip much.

Maple Grove went to state last year despite losing a big senior class the year before. The Crimson should be well-positioned for another strong year as Jared Rainey and Nate Adams both return. Rainey is one of the better point guards in the state.

Chaska won 20 games a year ago and return several starters including senior forward Cole Nicholson. Nicholson averaged better than 22 points per game a season ago and his inside-outside skills make him as tough a cover as anybody in the state. Connor Krenos returns as well. 

Minnetonka had a nice year a season ago, winning 14 games and the Skippers should be better this year as Jalen Dearring and Cameron Steele are both back. That’s a very good inside-outside duo. Gavin Patton was solid last year too.

Way-too-Early Top 10

  1. Eden Prairie
  2. Hopkins
  3. East Ridge
  4. Lakeville North
  5. Park Center
  6. Prior Lake
  7. Rochester John Marshall
  8. Wayzata
  9. Shakopee
  10. Cretin-Derham Hall