One of the oldest and most traditional holiday tournaments in Minnesota is the Granite City Holiday Classic. This tournament has put together memories for the past several years and the talent at the event this season is top notch. This year's field of teams once again makes the Granite City Classic one of the elite holiday tournaments in the state.
The three year rebuilding job of the East Greyhounds pointed to this season, the senior year of Dyami Starks. After winning 20 games when Starks was a freshman Duluth East has fell under .500 the past two years (a combined 24-30 record) but that will not be the case in 2009-10. East is just too talented with Starks, a Mr. Basketball candidate, and Johnny Woodard, the next superstar Greyhound who is now a sophomore. Add in the constant double-double performer Nick Toland, a senior, and East is going to be putting up numbers. Not just points but wins as well.
The Greyhounds return four starters and six of their top eight players. Starks should surpass 2,000 career points this winter coming off a 22 points, five rebound, and four assists a game season. As a freshman Woodard scored 15 points a game with five rebounds while Toland scored 14 with eight and a half boards a contest. The fourth senior returning for the Greyhounds is Montel Chapman who at 5-foot-9 works with Starks taking care of the basketball. Standout junior reserve Ian Nelson will have a bigger roe this season after securing four points and four boards a game in 08-09 and John Cigalio will be a main contributor from the bench.
In 2001 Rick Rickert (former McDonald's All-American, former Gopher, and former Timberwolves draft pick) was a senior and he brought the Greyhounds to state. In 2006 Cory Johnson (all time leading scorer at Duluth East, former Iowa State Cyclone, current Valpo Crusader) took the Greyhounds to a 2nd place finish at state. With Starks being the latest star and now a senior can he bring the team to state?
Forest Lake has a superb senior duo of Doug Sewall and Zach Riedeman both of whom stand at least six foot, five inches tall and can ball. Sewall led the team in rebounding with 8.6 a game last year and was a double figure scorer on most nights.
Meanwhile, Riedeman is being touted as possibly the best player in the history of Rangers' basketball. He'll surpass the school's all-time scoring record this season and is an All-Conference player in basketball, baseball and football. Last year Riedeman averaged 17.5 points per game with five rebounds and three assists. Already this year Zach scored 35 points in the Ranger opener (a win over Coon Rapids).
That's a heck of a duo to have but what else can coach Dan Cremisino work with in his open post motion? Junior Phil Hegseth is an excellent perimeter shooter while fellow senior Sam Miller is a nice athlete with experience. Senior forward Parker Winning should fill out the rest of the line-up and if for nothing else Parker's last name has to be a good vibe.
Jon Leuer graduated from Orono and packed his bags for Wisconsin in 2007. In that off-season Orono basketball looked to Hamline where Barry Wohler was the head coach and they convinced Wohler to take over Spartan basketball. Since then the Spartans have had seasons of 19-8 and 13-14 and the face of the program is 6-foot-2 guard Jordan Smith.
Jordan Smith is one of the elite shooters in the state and he's already the school record holder for points in a season (593) and a single game (49, in which he shot 11-of-15 from three-point range). Last year Jordan averaged 22 points a game and he's already led Orono to wins over STMA and Edina this season.
The Spartans have more to work with than just the hot shooting hand of Smith. Eight of their top ten players from last year are back and only one of them (Chase Gottschalk who is a solid three sport athlete) is a senior.
Sophomore Brady Wohler started at point as a freshman last year putting up five points, four assists, and four rebounds a game. He returns as does promising 6-foot-6 junior forward Jeremy Borg who scored seven points with rebounds as a starting sophomore. Orono may be a year away from their best season with this group but it doesn't mean they won't make noise now.
A drop off at Osseo? No chance! Lose six of your top eight guys from a second place team in state? No problem! The talent at Osseo continues to come in waves as the Orioles are once again state contenders.
So how do you lose starting point guard D.J. Phillips, sharp shooter Bobby Fischer, workhorse four-man Jayvin Reynolds, athletic defender Kyle Mason, surprising wing Nick Djerf, and of course Gonzaga signed top 150 recruit (in the nation) Sam Dower and still continue to win games like nothing happened? Just plug in the next wave that's how!
First off, North Dakota signed Aaron Anderson slides over to man the point and he's learned the position quite well after playing shooting guard last season. Of course Aaron can still score but he's also a better distributor because this team has three players who can really put points on the board besides Anderson.
Everybody remembers John Rowland the sharp shooter from the state tournament. John's back and he can also score around the basket too. Osseo also has explosive junior forwards in Jerrod Berven and Joey Sonnenfeld who can block shots, rebound, score, and dunk on heads. Berven has good size, agility, and shooting range while Sonnenfeld is a warrior on both ends of the floor. Add in the athletic scoring ability of Chris McMorris and Osseo has the makings of a dangerous basketball team.
Rocori slipped under .500 last year but fear not Spartan basketball lovers this team will not be down for long. Rocori is likely to start five seniors with three more coming off the bench. The Spartans picked up some good wins already this year plus they took class AA favorite New London-Spicer to the buzzer in a 64-60 loss.
Rocori had some growing pains as they used many juniors last year giving them experience in a 13-15 season. Now forwards Ben Rausch, who scored 11.3 points with five rebounds a game last, and Scott Willenbring, 7.5 points and four boards, will captain the Spartan ship. Willenbring is a tough player who also can hit from beyond the arc on a regular basis.
If all goes to plan Bob Brink could pass the 900 career win plateau towards the end of the season if Rocori can play good team defense and rebound consistently (they will not be very big). Other contributors should be Brett Eisenschenk, Mitch Worm, and Spencer Schulte.
St. Cloud Apollo
Apollo enters the Granite City Classic with six games under their belt against good opponents. They may be inexperienced in spots but the Eagles have good talent throughout their line-up and a solid coach in Dean Kessler on the bench. Looking to conquer the playoff demons of the past Apollo may have the team that gets this program back to state for the first time in 37 seasons.
Derek Steve and Ibrahim Abukar make up a big part of the backcourt, Blake Maslonkowski is the prototype bruising Minnesota high school power forward, and 6-foot-8 center Simon Krych, a transfer from Holdingford, mans the middle. These players picked up valuable experience this past summer playing against good competition and they did it with teammates at their side both in summer high school tournaments and with AAU teams. Juniors Mike Thiesmann and Nick Thornton will strengthen the bench.
The numbers for a strong year favor Apollo. As underclassmen all the Apollo starters had impressive totals. Maslonkowski put up ten points and seven rebounds a game, in the backcourt Abukar stuffed the state sheet with nine points, almost five assists, and two steals while Steve scored six a game at the off-guard. Then you have Krych who scored 20 points and just over nine boards on average at Holdingford.
Because they likely will start all juniors and the competition in the St. Cloud area is getting better (Apollo lost their opener to Cathedral in overtime) there could be a pitfall or two for the Eagles. But come sections Apollo may have what it takes to get to state for the first time since Richard Nixon was president.
St. Cloud Tech
The run of talented basketball did not end at Tech when Nate Wolters graduated. The Tigers have a lot of fight left in them and the player with the biggest stripes is Alex Hanks. The Minnesota State-Mankato signed Hanks earned his scholarship for several reasons but the biggest is his approach to the game. Alex has earned a few nicknames now, "Mr. T", "The Enforcer", and "Brad Raymond's Favorite Player", and they all fit because Hanks is simply tough. But he's also picked up a lot of skill in the off-season so he's a weapon all over the floor.
But isn't that all that Tech has? Not so much. They were fortunate to add the transfer of Scott Nystrom from Kimball Area who is one of the best scorers in the state of Minnesota. Nystrom averaged 22.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 3.4 assists last season. He may not have to do as much this year but the capability is definitely there. Nystrom will have Hanks to finish plays off his creation and sharp shooter Thomas Korf available to sink three-pointers.
With Randy Jordan off to a new challenge at Stillwater Tech hired Mike Trewick. Last year Trewick was an assistant basketball and football coach at nearby St. John's University, and he's been welcomed into the program.
Because of their 5-22 record from a year ago Sartell may be an after thought for many but taking this team lightly would be a mistake for several reasons.
Reason one, Dave Angell has coached at the school for 27 years and there is basketball wisdom between those ears. You don't win 338 games without picking up a thing or two along the way.
Reason two, experience returns with three full-time starters and two part-time starters coming back.
Reason three, they have an unusual size grouping with the projected starters all being between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-5. Not to many teams will play Sartell with a bigger line-up and the Sabres will usually have a size/strength mismatch to take advantage of in at least two spots every night.
Senior guard Andrew Krupke and junior forward Jordan Gieske are the guys who will usually be the players Sartell goes to for production. Both were reliable scorers last year and Gieske is a physical talent who loves the game of basketball.