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Finding Solace at the Minnesota Timberwolves Shootout

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The Minnesota Timberwolves haven't been very good, or very fun to cover. So, on Saturday morning, I went to the Target Center searching for quality basketball to write about. Here's what I found.

Zachary Bennett

A few days ago, The New York Times sent Knicks beat writer Scott Cacciola elsewhere. They just sent him somewhere so that he wouldn't be covering the Knicks.

So the Sports department's editors feel it is only merciful to give our Knicks beat writer, Scott Cacciola, a break from such woeful basketball. He deserves to see the game played at a higher level. For the next month or so, we would like to point him to some good, quality basketball, wherever it may be.

When the Minnesota Timberwolves PR department sent an email asking to RSVP for the 19th annual Minnesota Timberwolves Shootout, I figured there wasn't a good reason for me to not go and watch some high school basketball.

The event has seen plenty of high schoolers who have gone onto play in the NBA, such as Kevin Love, Jrue Holiday, DeMarcus Cousins, Josh Smith, Sebastian Telfair and Wesley Matthews -- just to name a few. That brief list doesn't include Minnesota natives a la Alan Anderson, Kris Humphries, Cole Aldrich, Royce White and Nate Wolters.

Basketball is a much slower game at the high school level because teams don't have to abide by a shot clock. There are less shots attempted, henceforth there is less scoring; but, this doesn't necessarily mean high school basketball teams don't want to play at a faster pace.

If there was a shot clock, smaller, less prestigious programs may walk into a massacre against larger schools -- or, powerhouses. We saw this when Hopkins met Shakopee in the MSHSL State Tournament last year. After the tournament, Matt D'Anna and I determined that Shakopee had slowed the game down so Hopkins couldn't get into transition, where superior athletes such as Amir Coffee are at their best.

Feel free to check our study out here.

With relatively less at stake on Saturday, there weren't many teams looking to slow things down at Target Center.

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In the first of four games meant to showcase some of the top talent in Minnesota and around the United States, Apple Valley took the floor to face Omaha Central (Nebraska) at around 9:00 AM.

The Eagles were poised, seasoned after Tyus Jones led them on an undefeated 2013-14 regular season campaign last year. The kids from Central walked into the stadium and appeared to soak in the moment. Some looked around at the seats and the Target Center's ceiling during warmups. Not everyone has the chance to play in an NBA arena

Apple Valley has sustained the success from their undefeated run last season. This year, with Jones now the starting point guard at Duke University, it's Tyus' brother, Tre Jones, initiating the offense. Although, this team belongs to Gary Trent Jr. now.

Older heads likely remember Gary Trent, who appeared in 212 games with the Timberwolves between 01-04. His lineage may reach the NBA before too long. Trent's son could end up following in his father's footsteps.

The son of the former "Shaq of the MAC" scored 10 points to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists by halftime. Apple Valley was ahead, 40-16, and he was only getting started.

Central was without 6'7'' center Daishon Neal -- who has verbally committed to playing football at the University of Nebraska --  and 6'2'' guard Karsten Bailey, their 3rd leading scorer, which left the Eagles short handed against the Eagles from Apple Valley.
(Both teams are named the Eagles.)

Physically, Central's Maguy Agau was the only player capable of matching up with Trent, who was far and away the most athletic player on the floor. It's worth noting that Agau's brother, Akoy, was a coveted high school recruit and is now a freshman at the University of Louisville.

Central was unquestionably short-handed without Neal and Bailey. Agau struggled early, scoring only 7 points on 2-of-9 shooting while freshman point guard Roman Behrens was held scoreless, tallied no assists and committed three turnovers in the first half.

Agau, a senior, is expected to play junior college ball (JuCo) somewhere after graduation. He has the physical attributes but his skills need refining before any major NCAA program will take a flyer on him.
Agau was the only player from Central to finish with double-digits (15).
Not bad considering he didn't have a ton of help.

Trent finished with 26 points on 9-of-17 from the field and grabbed 9 rebounds in just 26 minutes. He left his stamp on the victory with around 4:00 minutes to play by throwing down an emphatic two-handed slam.

When it was over, Apple Valley had handedly defeated Omaha Central, 79-49.

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DeLaSalle vs. Morgan Park (Illinois)

In what may have been the most anticipated game of the day, students from Morgan Park high school made a statement before tip-off.  "We Need a Gym," was written across white t-shirts that were worn by players during warm ups.

As defending back-to-back Illinois Class AAA State Champions, the Mustangs often play home games at alternative locations because their stadium cannot accommodate larger crowds. This website claims their gym seats less than 300 people.

(Picture below from hsbball.com)

Morgan Park HS

On Saturday inside Target Center, Morgan Park played on the grandest stage Minnesota has to offer.
They were up against the three-time defending Class AAA Minnesota State Champions: DeLaSalle.

I discovered quickly why Mustangs' guard Marcus LoVett is considered one of top high school basketball players in Illinois. Throughout the first half it felt as though he couldn't miss. LoVett shot 11-of-17 (4-of-8 3pt FG) en route to 26 points in 18 minutes of play. No wonder he's already received offers from UCLA, Illinois, Kansas, Tennessee, St. John's and San Diego State -- just to name a few.

Moreover, the Islanders were led by sophomore Sacar Anim, who scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 17 minutes. 
Still, LoVett's 26 points were more than the entire opposition produced by halftime and Morgan Park was in the lead, 35-25.

Recap of the first half between DeLaSalle and Morgan Park:

But the momentum started to shift.

Morgan Park was quick, but lacked size in the sense that no player on the roster was over 6'8''. Their uptempo style of play wasn't effective later in the game as DeLaSalle tightened up at the defensive end. Subsequently, LoVett missed his first six shots of the second half.

After going back and forth throughout the final five minutes, DeLaSalle ultimately pulled away thanks in large part to 31 points from Amin. Additionally, future Minnesota Golden Gopher Jarvis Johnson quietly contributed 18 of his own, helping to defeat Morgan Park, 74-66.

After the game, Islander's head coach Dave Thorson complimented LoVett's performance, which truly was jaw dropping for those in attendance.

Check out LoVett's performance in the video below.

It's no wonder people in Chicago fill Morgan Park's small stadium to its capacity on a regular basis.

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I didn't stick around to see the Wolves take on the San Antonio Spurs, because I had to leave for work. By then, the lower bowl of the arena was about as full as it would be during a Timberwolves game. This is despite the surprising lack of students who showed up to support their classmates.

If you have a chance to go and see the Minnesota Timberwolves Shootout next year, I suggest you take the opportunity. If the Wolves are playing as poorly as they are now, seeing some of the premier talent at the high school level will be a sight for sore eyes.

What else is there to do when it's this cold outside?

-zb