Minnehaha vs Sierra Canyon: a game in front of the nation

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Minnehaha vs Sierra Canyon: a game in front of the nation

Bronny James and Jalen Suggs stand in the middle of the court during the game.

Bronny James and Jalen Suggs stand in the middle of the court during the game.

Brooks Carver

Bronny James and Jalen Suggs stand in the middle of the court during the game.

Brooks Carver

Brooks Carver

Bronny James and Jalen Suggs stand in the middle of the court during the game.

Brooks Carver, Reviews Editor

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The average attendance for a Minnesota Timberwolves game is just slightly below 15,000 people. Over New Year’s weekend, more than 17,000 people showed up to Target Center—and many more watching live on ESPN 3—to see Jalen Suggs face off against Bronny James in the “Chipotle Clash of Champions”—a high school basketball game featuring two of the country’s top teams: Minnesota’s own Minnehaha Academy, and the star-studded, nationally-ranked Sierra Canyon School in what is believed to be the most-attended high school basketball game in state history. 

It’s pretty uncommon for Minnesota to be at the center of the national spotlight. Normally, big prep schools from California and Texas dominate the elite high school sports scene. So, even though the state has a rich high school basketball culture, this is the first time that Minnesotan athletes have been showcased at such a large stage. This unprecedented media coverage is due to Minnehaha’s trio of star players: Jalen Suggs (senior), Chet Holmgren (junior), and Prince Aligbe (sophomore). All are ranked high in the lauded “ESPN top 100” list of prospects for their respective grades, with Suggs and Holmgren both being in the top 5. Minnehaha Academy has also won the state championship the past 3 years for the AA class. However, regardless of how good Minnehaha is, the real reason fans are lining up 3 hours before tip-off in hopes of getting a good seat is because of LeBron James Jr, Zaire Wade, and the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers. James and Wade are the sons of NBA legends LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Sierra Canyon also boasts a plethora of 5-star recruits including Ziare Williams (senior) and Brandon Boston Jr (senior). Boston Jr committed to Kentucky over the summer, and Williams remains undecided.

The game was originally supposed to be played in Minnehaha Academy’s gymnasium on Saturday night as part of a 2-day showcase, with Friday night featuring Minnehaha vs Park Center, and Sierra Canyon vs The Patrick School from New Jersey. However, after tickets for the Saturday game sold out in under 3 minutes, fans demanded that the venue be changed to somewhere that could handle more people. So, a few weeks before the event Minnehaha athletic director Josh Thurow agreed to move the event to the Target Center, home of the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA team, which can hold 18,000 people—way more than Minnehaha’s small gym that can only fit around 2,000 people. 

To make the weekend even more interesting, Suggs announced his commitment to play college basketball at Gonzaga University at halftime of the Sierra Canyon/Patrick School game on Friday night. Gonzaga is currently ranked number one in the AP top 25 college basketball rankings. Suggs was proudly repping his new school on Saturday night by wearing a Gonzaga basketball hoodie during pre-tip warmups and custom “Go Zags” Nike shoes. However, Suggs is still leaving the door open to potentially play one year of professional basketball overseas instead of going the traditional college route. Suggs said that his consideration to play overseas is “very serious” and that he and his family have “still been in talks” with many professional teams during his commitment announcement.

As soon as the doors to the stadium opened at 6 o clock—an hour before tip-off—fans poured down from the main level, rapidly filling the lower bowl of the Target Center. James, Suggs, Aligbe, and many others teased the anxious crowd during shootaround by throwing down crazy dunks in the layup line, giving them a glimpse of what was to come. By the time the game was ready to tip-off, every seat was filled, even all the way up in the nosebleeds, and at least three purple-and-gold LeBron James “Lakers” jerseys could be spotted in every section. Despite that, the fans’ loyalty appeared to remain with the hometown Redhawks as they received significantly more applause during player introductions and during the game itself. Some fans were hoping that King James himself would make a surprise appearance at the game since the Lakers had a day off, but unfortunately, he didn’t show.

Some fans were hoping that King James himself would make a surprise appearance at the game since the Lakers had a day off, but unfortunately, he didn’t show.”

— Brooks Carver

Playing on a big stage was nothing new to Sierra Canyon. Their games are frequently televised on ESPN and they always draw huge crowds, including back in December when 13,000 people came out to watch the Trailblazers take on LeBron James’ alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Sierra Canyon looked comfortable as they started the game off fast, going on a 10-2 run; It looked like it was going to be a blowout. However, after the Redhawks settled down and adjusted to the lights, they were able to climb out of the hole they had dug for themselves. They fought back to tie the game 34-34 at halftime.

The Trailblazers struggled to crack Minnehaha’s impressive 2-3 zone defense, anchored by 7-foot center Chet Holmgren. Holmgren was a defensive game-changer for the Redhawks, winning the battle against Harold Yu, Sierra Canyon’s opposing 7’3 big man, and finishing the game with 12 blocks and 10 rebounds. He single-handedly managed to keep the Redhawks in the game during the first half even though he was more quiet than usual on the offensive end. Despite Holmgren’s remarkable performance, Suggs was still undoubtedly the player of the game. 

Suggs was involved on both ends of the floor, touching the ball on all offensive possessions and taking most of the shots in the second half.

He ended the game with 23 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals, including a strong and-one 3-point play to put the Redhawks up 14 with 3 minutes left in the game to seal the win for Minnehaha. Suggs finally checked out of the game with the Redhawks up 20 late in the second half to a standing ovation from the Target Center. Prince Aligbe also had a great game for Minnehaha, finishing with 18 points and 8 rebounds along with a much-needed burst at the start of the second half, scoring 3 straight baskets to give the Redhawks a solid lead.

Despite James being the main attraction of the big game, he had a relatively quiet night putting up only 5 points off the bench. However, he’s still only a Freshman so it’s unfair to have super-high expectations for the fifteen-year-old. James’ teammate BJ Boston Jr had a nice night compiling 27 points in the loss. 

Regardless of the outcome of the game, what really stood out was the fact that over 17,000 people were willing to drive out to the Target Center and pay $30 to watch high school basketball. It’s a huge step forward in putting Minnesota on the map in the national sports scene and hopefully, more of these events will happen in the future, even after Minnehaha’s talented recruits graduate high school.