There's really a tremendous feeling that accompanies your favorite team making the Class B state tournament.
When your favorite team is New Town, and your boys basketball team hasn't gone to state in 30 years, there's a little something extra to feel special about.
Perhaps underrated for most of the year not necessarily by the media as we had them No. 3 in the state in the final Class B poll the Eagles proved they not only belonged in the tournament, but that their sights were set on a much higher goal rather than "just happy to be there."
People saw what New Town was capable of on the first night, when it upset No. 2-ranked and previously unbeaten Fargo Oak Grove. From conversations I had with multiple people, the Eagles became the "hot" pick in the tournament. They could get up and down, they were long and lengthy, and played the game the right way with good sportsmanship and character.
The second night brought those fans down to earth. Grafton's steady formula of ferocious defense and timely offense proved to be too much. That same formula helped Grafton become the only team to play with North Star in the fourth quarter this year when the two teams met up in the state championship game.
We saw powerhouse New Town again in the first half against a powerhouse program in Dickinson Trinity. The Eagles couldn't miss, getting to the basket and draining 3-pointers. But more impressive was the way the Eagles didn't necessarily rely on their stars. Sure, standouts Alex Baker, Mike Young Bird and Preston Smith had good tournaments, but watching Jeremiah Wells and Donovan Lambert, among others, hit big shots gave me the feeling that they were a true team rather than riding a three-man show to state.
And speaking of standout players.
After New Town beat Oak Grove, one player stood out in the mind of most of the media members I talked to Preston Smith.
He's a 6-foot-3 junior with the ability to jump out of a gym and plays like a true power forward. His ability to block shots, dunk the basketball and rebound made him one of the most talked about athletes at the tournament. One assistant coach told me, "He's a junior? He looks like a college junior."
There's no doubting that Smith will be looked at to lead next year's Eagles. He was one of the most athletically gifted players at the tournament, and the statewide media definitely took notice.
A few other thoughts:
The best player in the tournament was sophomore Jacob Hagler. The 6-foot-2 lightning-quick point guard gets up the court as fast as anybody I've seen in recent memory. He's already scored 1,000 points in his career and with him and sophomore guard Daniel Grande, the stage is set for an incredible backcourt next year. From what I've heard, the Bearcats have a 6-foot-6 underclassman they will most likely bring up next year.
Though it doesn't provide for the most entertaining basketball, teams like Grafton and Dickinson Trinity know how to get it done. They're defensive-minded, and they value possessions. A lot of fans don't like to watch that kind of basketball, but I prefer it over a team that runs down and shoots 15-foot jumpers without even making a pass.
Speaking of teams that value possessions, Bishop Ryan was one of the most disciplined in the tournament. But it was also nice to see Ryan open it up and run with Fargo Oak Grove. I thought that was extremely impressive, and a brilliant strategy by coach Scott Medalen. Even though Ryan lost 70-66, the Lions disproved what many critics had felt this season that Ryan had to slow the game way down to have any chance to win. Oak Grove was one of the best in the state at getting up and down.
I was definitely a fan of the job Minot State University did hosting this tournament. As a media member, I really look for easy access to interviews and a place to work. That was no problem and I'm sure of no concern to anybody but me. As a basketball fan, MSU set the stage perfectly for the championship game and I think, for the most part, people enjoyed the facility and the tournament overall.