Basketball can be a simple game, as exhibited by this message from New Prague coach Bryce Tesdahl to his boys during a timeout Tuesday evening at Farmington: “Take care of the ball! And on defense, stop the ball!”
Sounds simple enough, right? But as any coach will tell you, it’s all in the execution.
The first time I interviewed Tesdahl, he was a senior at Crosby-Ironton High School. His basketball team was the Class 2A state runner-up that year (2008) and he was bound for a record-setting college career at Bemidji State. He set school and conference records for assists and helped the Beavers win the 2012 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title and a berth in the NCAA Division II national tournament. His playing career was followed by three years as a graduate assistant at Minnesota-Duluth. His family basketball pedigree is also special, but more on that later.
Tesdahl was hired as the New Prague boys coach last season and had an immediate impact. His inaugural team was 20-8 and lost to Lakeville North in the Class 4A Section 1 semifinals; North went on to become the 4A state runner-up. This season, the Trojans are 10-0 and one of only four undefeated teams in 4A (the others are Tartan and Wayzata at 8-0 and Champlin Park at 7-0).
New Prague has defeated teams such as Burnsville, Lakeville South, Shakopee, East Ridge and Rochester Mayo. Upcoming opponents include Eden Prairie, Prior Lake and Minnetonka, along with competition from Orono, Delano, Holy Family, Waconia and Hutchinson in the Wright County Conference.
This is where execution comes in. The Trojans are a senior-dominated team that relies on a mix of hard-nosed defense and ball-zipping offense. They also have a bit of a chip on their shoulder due to their status as one of the smallest schools in 4A basketball. There are 64 teams in 4A and New Prague ranks 62nd on that list; only St. Cloud Tech and Henry Sibley are smaller. New Prague is only in its second year as a 4A team.
“Our players work hard, they’re not afraid of anybody, they know we’re kind of the little fish in the big pond,” said Tesdahl, 26. “They’ve taken on the role of underdog as a small school in the big class.”
Tuesday’s 67-43 victory at Farmington was emblematic of the Trojans’ season. They dashed out to an early lead, kept hustling on defense and passing on offense and gave the Tigers (4-3) few chances to get back in the game.
The game began like this: Tylar Lindell hit a three-point shot on New Prague’s first possession and the bench erupted. After a turnover, Lindell made a fast-break layup and the bench erupted. Jacob Milinkovich drained a three, followed by another steal, Milinkovich was fouled on a layup and hit two free throws. By the time the game was less than four minutes old, multiple daggers had been thrown and the score was 12-0.
“They’ve got five seniors who have all been there before, and they play well together offensively,” said first-year Farmington head coach Tharen Johnson. “You watch them, they set each other up. They’re very good. Defensively, they just work very hard.”
The five senior starters are Lindell, Jacob and Jared Milinkovich, Zach Hanson and Jacob Washa. Hanson, a 6-foot-5 forward who will play collegiately at St. John’s in Collegeville, averages 19 points and 18 rebounds. Jacob Milinkovich averages 14 points.
“Our seniors are great leaders on and off the floor,” Tesdahl said. “It’s a fun group to coach and fun group to be around. They have lots of positive energy, enthusiasm and love for the game. And they express that to the younger kids on the team and the younger players in the community.”
Some folks in New Prague might argue that last year’s team was even more talented, but there is always a period of adjustment when a new coach takes over. Tesdahl said he and his team have moved past that stage in his second season.
“This time I got the full summer with the kids and continued to develop that relationship coming off the first year,” he said. “First years are always tough. It’s a scramble to get to know the kids, install offensive and defensive principles, the whole learning curve. We got it down late last year, we had some success, the kids bought in at the end of the season to where we are today.
“There are no real surprises to why we’re having success. The kids bought in all summer and fall, and now we continue to add stuff instead of correcting mistakes.”
Now for the family angle…
Tesdahl is the grandson of Bob McDonald, the now-retired Chisholm boys basketball coach who won more games than any coach in Minnesota history and was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in 2015. The family basketball tree has deep roots and extensive limbs.
All six of Bob McDonald’s children became basketball coaches, including Tesdahl’s mother, Sue, a former coach at Crosby-Ironton. Bryce Tesdahl’s uncles are head coaches at Hibbing High School (Joel), Ely High School (Tom), Cambridge-Isanti High School (Mike) and Vermilion Community College (Paul). Bryce’s cousin Rhett McDonald (son of Mike) is the boys basketball coach at Duluth East.
“I don’t think of it as pressure,” Bryce said of coming from such a well-known coaching family. “As a player and coach, I take it as an expectation to not only have success but to seek success through hard work. My Grandpa McDonald and our family did a great job of raising us kids in a successful culture not only on the court but off the court. Those are some of the things I try to instill in our kids here in New Prague. It’s not about you, it’s about the team, and our kids have done a great job of doing that.”
BY THE NUMBERS
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