John's Journal
Timberwolves' Cole Aldrich: The Pride Of Bloomington Jefferson 2/19/2017
With another NBA All-Star break at hand, Cole Aldrich is doing what he has done throughout his seven-year career as a professional basketball player: Get together with his entourage, his posse, his crew.

The thing is, Aldrich’s entourage consists of his high school buddies from Bloomington Jefferson. Their 10-year class reunion will take place this summer and Aldrich will stand out for two reasons: he is 6-foot-11 and he plays in the NBA. And yet he remains nothing more than one of the guys, just like in high school.

“My high school buddies have always been my best friends,” Aldrich said during a recent interview before a Timberwolves practice. “I’ve met thousands and thousands of different people in different states and played with a number of teammates, but those are always my guys. We have a mass text with each other and we just sit there and talk crap to each other.”

Aldrich’s ties with Bloomington Jefferson are deep. He was a varsity starter from his first game as a ninth-grader and after graduation played at Kansas University for three years before being taken by New Orleans with the 11th pick in the 2010 draft. That same day New Orleans traded his rights to Oklahoma City, and his NBA career has taken him to Houston, Sacramento, the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers and now the Timberwolves. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images.)

Cole was 15 years old the first time I interviewed him, after the second game of his ninth-grade season. He was 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds. As I wrote in that story for the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“The raw material is certainly there. Aldrich has good feet, a soft touch and a wingspan of 7-4. Genes might be a factor. According to Walter (his father), there are rumors of an 8-foot-tall Norwegian lurking somewhere back deep in the family trees. The freshman isn't quite a human swizzle stick, but he could use some biscuits and gravy. And, most important, some time to grow up.”

Back then it was hard, even for Jefferson head coach Jeff Evens, to envision Aldrich as a seven-year NBA veteran.

“When he was a kid I didn’t really think he would be a big Division I player,” Evens said recently. “But his picture should be right next to ‘Jefferson basketball’ in the dictionary.”

Aldrich was named the 2007 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year as a senior, when he was a 61 percent shooter who averaged 23 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks per game. His only appearance in a state tournament came that season, with the Jaguars losing to Apple Valley 68-66 in the big-school quarterfinals at Williams Arena. Aldrich has not forgotten many details of that game from 10 years ago.

He finished with 32 points and 21 rebounds in his last high school game, but the final time he touched the ball – in the final seconds -- really stands out. “I took kind of a half-court heave and if it would have been like three inches left I think I would have sunk it,” he said. “But it kind of hit right at that side.”

He can laugh about it now, especially when one of his buddies brings it up.

“He’s still pretty down to earth,” Evens said. “Other than size, you wouldn’t recognize that he’s a professional athlete. The impact that he makes is that he doesn’t stray too far from his roots. He knows where he started. His best buddies to this day are the kids he played basketball with in high school.”

During All-Star breaks as well as in the summer, Aldrich likes to work out with current Jefferson players. He also takes part in an annual golf fundraiser for the Jaguars team. As always has been the case, he brings the fun with him. (This photo is from high school.)

“He’s the same goofy kid that he always was,” Evens said. “When he was in high school, I made a comment that I really hated raking leaves, and for two consecutive weekends Cole and his buddies dumped like 18 bags of leaves in my yard. They did it late at night so I didn’t know who did it. But one of the bags ended up in the hoop in my yard, so it was clear somebody who was really tall did that.”

Aldrich and his wife Britt have been married for almost four years. She attended Irondale High School – 25 miles from Bloomington Jefferson – but they didn’t meet until they were both in their first year at Kansas. Cole is being paid more than $7 million this season, the first year of a three-year Timberwolves contract worth more than $21 million.

The NBA is most assuredly a business, but mention high school basketball and Aldrich’s eyes light it up. It’s clear he treasures that time in his life, mostly because he simply had fun. And that’s a major portion of his advice for current high school athletes.

“Just enjoy it,” he said. “My parents wouldn’t know how to tape a game and sit there and break it down with me. There was no way my dad was doing that. I think that kind of helped me become successful; I didn’t really have that pressure. I was playing and I was having fun. The only pressure that was on me was what I was giving myself.

“I almost played football and baseball in high school. And he (Evens) was kind of all for it. He said, ‘I think you should have fun in high school.’ For me now, looking back at it, I had a great time playing with my buddies.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 443
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,357
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
A Full House, High Drama And A Night To Remember 2/18/2017
A fellow walked into a high school gym at 6:15 p.m. on Friday and walked out at 10:25 p.m., having lost all track of the time. As he stuck the car key into the ignition, he said to himself, “Man oh man that was really fun.”

The fellow says that a lot, because he’s fortunate to be employed in a position that takes him to high school events all across Minnesota. And this is a time of year, with a lot on the line, when dramatic and fantastic things happen everywhere you turn. One example from Friday night: the girls hockey team from Roseau defeated Brainerd/Little Falls 3-2 in a four-overtime game in Bemidji that sent the Rams to next week’s state tournament. You just know that everyone who was there in person will never forget it.

That is high drama, and that is also what took place at Rosemount High School. The sport was wrestling, and this was special. Here’s the tantalizing backstory …

On Dec. 1, in the opening match of the season for both teams, Shakopee went to Apple Valley and defeated the Eagles 29-28. That was the Eagles’ first dual-match defeat to a Minnesota team since 2006. Apple Valley has won the last 11 Class 3A state team titles and that Dec. 1 result upended the wrestling world in our state. Since that day, the Shakopee Sabers have held the No. 1 ranking in 3A with the Eagles No. 2.

Friday’s event was the Section 2 team tournament. Both teams won easily in the quarterfinals and semifinals, setting up the rematch that everyone knew was coming since that first day in December and that would send the winning team to state.

Apple Valley has qualified for every team state tournament since 1982. The question was: Can the Sabers end that streak?

And if that wasn’t enough of a storyline, how about this? Second-year Shakopee coach Jim Jackson spent 32 years at Apple Valley. His record as head coach there was 618-27-3 and the Eagles won 14 team state titles under him.

The anticipation was high and the wrestling lived up to it and more. The Sabers won three of the first four matches and led 10-3. The first sign that it might be the Eagles’ night came in the fifth match at 132 pounds. Shakopee senior Brent Jones is top-ranked at the weight and holds three state titles. But an Eagles sophomore named Sebas Swiggum pulled off the stunner, beating Jones 7-5 in overtime.

This Tweet was issued by @AVHSAthletics at 9:27 p.m.: “Regardless of the outcome, this has been an awesome night for Minnesota wrestling.”

The next big bolt of thunder came at 195 pounds. Another Apple Valley sophomore, Tyler Kim, scored in the final seconds to beat Shakopee senior Abe Ngaima 5-4. That forged a 19-19 tie, the fifth deadlock of the dual and sent the Eagles and their fans into a frenzy.

An 8-5 win by Apple Valley’s Tanyi Besong at 220 was the all-but clincher, with the Eagles leading 22-19 and the top-ranked heavyweight in the nation up next.

In the middle of that 220 match, the fellow received this Twitter dispatch from someone who knows Besong well: “Thank you so much for these Tweets. I am an airline pilot and my brother is wrestling so I'm ‘watching’ your tweets from airport.”

Gable Steveson, Apple Valley’s unbeaten and two-time state champion junior at 285 pounds, won by fall in 38 seconds to cap the evening and give the Eagles a 28-19 victory.

A few minutes later Gable told me, “After we lost on December first, I think it set a fire under the team. Today we came in and showed that we can wrestle with these guys. We can wrestle with anybody out there; we’re toe to toe, we’re head to head with everybody.”

Dalen Wasmund, who moved from assistant coach to head coach when Jackson left Apple Valley in 2012, gathered his wrestlers around him for a post-match chat. There were grins and hugs in the huddle.

“Sebas Swiggum beats a three-time state champion, how can it get any better than that?,” Wasmund said after the cluster broke up. “That was a real key match. Then we won at 152 by one. And to kind of salt it away, our 95-pounder gets a takedown with less than two seconds to go. All those really close things kind of added up to a victory for us. We’re just really happy, really proud of the kids.”

Jackson, who has been through the wrestling wars for a long time, took the long view.

“It was a great experience to be in this kind of situation. And you know, it’s all about learning and improving,” he said. “They won a couple of really close matches, which obviously when you win the close matches that’s big. There were a lot of close matches. They won at 32 and that was a big one, and at 95. I’m proud of our kids, I’m proud of how they competed. I thought it was a heck of a dual meet for the fans and it was great for high school wrestling.”

Indeed it was. The gym was overflowing with humans, including large student sections from both schools that kept the volume turned up to 11. At the above-mentioned key moments, fans roared, wrestlers leaped into the air, and everyone had the same thought: Man oh man this is really fun.

Everyone who was there will never forget it.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 407
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,307
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
State Dance Recap: Jazz2/18/2017
Congratulations to all the teams competing in the state dance team tournament at Target Center. Friday's event was the jazz competition and here's a recap of the results:

Class 1A Finals
1 Aitkin
2 Frazee
3 Yellow Medicine East
4 St. Charles
5 LqPV/Dawson-Boyd
6 Duluth Marshall

Class 2A Finals
1 Benilde-St. Margaret's
2 Totino-Grace
3 Sartell-Saint Stephen
4 Rocori
5 Fairbault
6. Mound Westonka

Class 3A Finals
1 Eastview
2 Maple Grove
3 Edina
4 Wayzata
5 Prior Lake
6 Lakeville North

All-Tournament Teams

Class 1A
Aitkin Shelly Stephani
Aitkin Courtney Conner
Frazee Juliana Diemert
Frazee Cassidy Nelson
Marshall School, Duluth Clarissa Pederson
Marshall School, Duluth Katie Cherro
*Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd Savannah Erickson
*Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd Josie Munsterman
St. Charles Allie Doty
St. Charles Emily Reps
Yellow Medicine East, Granite Falls Raelin Enstad

Class 2A
Benilde-St. Margaret’s, St. Louis Park Molly Segner
Benilde-St. Margaret’s, St. Louis Park CiCi Fortney
*Faribault Alana Bresnahan
*Faribault Gracie Donahue
Mound Westonka Sydney Ryan
Mound Westonka Bailey Kahmeyer
Rocori, Cold Spring Isabella Torborg
Rocori, Cold Spring Madeline Spanier
Sartell-St. Stephen Alyssa Brix
Sartell-St. Stephen Sloan Schwarzentraub
Totino-Grace, Fridley Julia Johnston
Totino-Grace, Fridley Allie Wollman

Class 3A
Eastview, Apple Valley Katherine Hebig
Eastview, Apple Valley Mikayla Koles
Edina Etta Winje
Edina Verena Stockl
Lakeville North Abbie Zell
Lakeville North Beth Bauerman
Maple Grove Chole Bauer
Maple Grove Shelby Dobratz
Prior Lake Emily Schriever
Prior Lake Erin Palmer
Wayzata Jenna Rathbun
Wayzata Leah Kasner
State Dance Recap: High Kick2/18/2017
Congratulations to all the teams competing in the state dance team tournament at Target Center over the weekend. Saturday's event was the high kick competition and here's a recap of the results:

Class 1A Finals
1. Aitkin
3. Yellow Medicine East
4. Lac quie Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd
5. Cannon Falls
6. Frazee

Class 2A Finals
1. Sartell-St. Stephen
2. Totino-Grace
3. Faribault
4. Rocori
5. St. Cloud Cathedral
6. Benilde-St. Margaret’s

Class 3A Finals
1. Eastview
2. Wayzata
3. Lakeville North
4. Brainerd
5. Lakeville South
6. Chaska

All-Tournament Teams
Class 1A
Aitkin Shelly Stephani
Aitkin Courtney Conner
Frazee Juliana Diemert
Frazee Cassidy Nelson
Marshall School, Duluth Clarissa Pederson
Marshall School, Duluth Katie Cherro
Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd Savannah Erickson
Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd Josie Munsterman
St. Charles Allie Doty
St. Charles Emily Reps
Yellow Medicine East, Granite Falls Raelin Enstad
Yellow Medicine East, Granite Falls Rachel Trudel

Class 2A
Benilde-St. Margaret’s, St. Louis Park Morgan Hovanec
Benilde-St. Margaret’s, St. Louis Park Megan Benson
Faribault Madisson Morris
Faribault Jacki Rindahl
Rocori, Cold Spring Madalynn Hansen
Rocori, Cold Spring Emily Lindell
Sartell-St. Stephen Rachel Ruff
Sartell-St. Stephen Macy Senn
St. Cloud Cathedral Nicole Prom
St. Cloud Cathedral Annie Kunkel
Totino-Grace, Fridley Julie Hartwig
Totino-Grace, Fridley Nicole Sperling

Class 3A
Brainerd Avery Davidge
Brainerd Chole Hollen
Chaska Maddie Siegel
Chaska Mara Rydland
Eastview, Apple Valley Hanna Schroeder
Eastview, Apple Valley McKinley Espinda Banick
Lakeville North Leah Eggan
Lakeville North Kailey McCollough
Lakeville South Cassie Johnson
Lakeville South Tia Yorek
Wayzata Grace Burnett
Wayzata Megan Schumacher
Coming From Behind In State Nordic Skiing 2/16/2017
BIWABIK -- Xavier Mansfield didn’t come out of nowhere to win the boys Nordic skiing state championship Thursday at Giants Ridge. The senior from Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony Village, however, had some ground to make up in order to capture the gold medal.

Mansfield finished third in the morning 5K freestyle race. Eagan senior Patrick Acton finished with a five-second lead over William Kerker of Minneapolis Southwest in that race, with Mansfield 15 seconds behind Foss (and 20 seconds behind Acton). In the afternoon 5K classical pursuit race, the skiers leave the starting line in the order they finished the morning race. So Acton went out with a five-second head start on Kerker and 20 seconds ahead of Mansfield.

The margin vanished by the 2K mark and the trio of seniors skied together until reaching the 3K point. Mansfield pulled away, picking up speed on the downhill portion and finishing with a nine-second margin over Acton in combined times from the two races. Mansfield won the classical race by nearly 30 seconds, with Acton second and Kerker third.

“I was just trying to catch them,” Mansfield said. “They had a good skate race and I felt having them to chase helped a little bit with motivation. I knew it would be hard, but I had confidence going in that I could catch them and hopefully just stay ahead of them on the downhill.

“Sometimes it comes down to whoever has the fast skis coming down the hill, no matter how hard you work at going up.”

Acton also finished second last year to then-Bloomington Jefferson senior Zak Katterson. Mansfield was third a year ago and Kerker was sixth.

Manfield’s time Thursday was 28:23.2, Acton finished in 28.32.2 and Kerker’s time was 28:35.6.

In the boys team competition, Minneapolis Southwest claimed the state title for the second year in a row with a score of 421, followed by Wazyata at 405 and St. Paul Highland Park at 385.

Northern Minnesota girls finished first and second in their portion of the competition. Ely senior Erin Bianco won the state championship, followed by Cloquet-Esko-Carlton senior Anja Maijala. St. Paul Highland Park senior Erin Moening was third.

Maijala was the leader after the 5K freestyle race, followed by Bianco and Anna Johnson of Mesabi East. Maijala held a four-second lead over Bianco with Johnson 11 seconds behind Bianco; Moening was seventh.

In the 5K classical pursuit, Bianco came on strong as Maijala battled a shoulder injury that hampered her speed.

“Erin caught me right away,” Maijala said. “That was kind of my plan because I did not know how it was going to go. My shoulder was bothering me a ton after the race and I was really trying to power through with my legs. It’s been bothering me the whole week. I was trying to hold on to Erin but I had so much pain the whole time so it was really hard.”

Even after Bianco took the lead she worried about the pack chasing her.

“I knew that everyone was super close behind so I wasn’t like super confident but I just wanted to be around people, and Anja definitely really pushed me,” she said. “I couldn’t have raced that way without her.”

Erin’s combined time was 32:20.0, with Maijala finishing in 32:26.7 and Moening in 32:49.6.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to lose to anyone else,” Maijala said. “She’s been the top skier in our area, always in the top bunch, since I joined skiing in eighth grade.”

In the girls team race, Ely took home the state championship with a score 413. Armstrong was second at 394 and Minneapolis Southwest finished third at 368.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 403
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,294
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn