It’s not about now for the Hopkins Royals
The Hopkins Royals lost just once last season, and it could not have come at a worse time – in the state championship final against Elk River. Hopkins has also lost just one game this season, but last Friday's Eastview…
The Hopkins Royals lost just once last season, and it could not have come at a worse time – in the state championship final against Elk River. Hopkins has also lost just one game this season, but last Friday's Eastview surprise could turn out to be a well-timed bump in the road for Brian Cosgriff's team. Better to taste defeat now – when it can serve as a healthy reminder that there are no easy championships – than later, when it is too late to recover.
Just 24 hours after that loss, Hopkins went back to work, outlasting a strong squad from Beaver Dam, Wisc., for a 74-71 win in overtime. Afterwards, Cosgriff spoke about how his players had responded to adversity. “I was really proud of our kids because we came out and competed today. Last night we didn't compete – we gave up,” he said. “Against Eastview we got up early. Tonight we got down, but you just have to keep battling, you have to keep fighting. It's a long game. It's a possession game. Teams are going to make runs, so you never quit. You need to go out and compete, lay it on the line, and see what happens.”
It wasn't easy, and Beaver Dam is no pushover. Considered by many to be the premiere team in Wisconsin, they have a 6'4″ post who has signed with the Badgers, two more D1s and a D2 kid, and a gifted 9th grader with offers from Notre Dame and Louisville. “If they played in Minnesota, they would probably be one of the best, if not the best, in our state,” Cosgriff said.
The Royals were down a dozen in the first half, up a dozen in the second. Hopkins was attempting to kill clock down the stretch, a tactic at which they usually excel. On this day, things didn’t go their way, which led to overtime. “They didn't have that many fouls so we had to be strong with the ball and we weren't strong,” Cosgriff said. “It's good experience. Hopefully we will learn from it and get better because it's not about now, it's about February or March.”
Setbacks can be valuable for elite teams
Coaches of top-shelf teams understand the value of these setbacks. Every time the Minnesota Lynx have won a WNBA title, they have had a mid-season swoon that had observers questioning their ability to get the big job done. Hopkins is no different. People tend to think of the Royals as this big, bad, well-oiled machine, in the same way we characterize Geno Auriemma's UCONN Huskies or the old Soviet Red Army hockey teams. Except they are not. They are kids, some as young as 14, who have bad days, teenage distractions, and off-court challenges that spectators never see. Every so often, those things spill over onto the basketball court for 15 or 20 minutes.
One factor the Royals should be concerned about is depth, because there isn't enough to be comfortable. Against Eastview, Hopkins was without 6th player Jaide Pressley, who was down with the flu. That meant a lot more minutes for Amaya Battle, who is still in the 8th grade, and Kira Mosely, who is still recovering from a severe knee injury. If someone in the top eight can't go, Cosgriff has to scoot next door to the junior high for reinforcements. Forward Maya Nnaji and guard Alayna Contreras are also 8th graders. Forward Taylor Woodson is in 7th.
On Tuesday night, Hopkins played a game against Annandale that they were never going to lose. The final was 77-36. Even so, Cosgriff prepared his team just as diligently, was just as intense on the sideline, was just as irritated by questionable calls. A pre-game ceremony honoring Paige Bueckers' 1,000-point milestone and Team USA gold medal was held prior to warmups – not in the minutes before tipoff or at halftime when such events normally take place – so as not to upset Hopkins' pre-game routine or inconvenience Annandale.
This weekend they face two more interlopers from afar: Sioux Falls Lincoln on Friday, and Sioux Falls Washington on Saturday. A game on Jan. 12 is the one we're all looking forward to, when the Royals take the nine-mile bus ride to Wayzata to play the Trojans. Perhaps last Friday's defeat will lead to next Friday's victory. “Oh yeah, there's all kinds of lessons to be learned,” Cosgriff said. “Honestly, if we were playing the best basketball right now I would be worried sick. It's not about December. It's not about January. It's about late February and March… We have to get better and there is a lot to improve on. I do not want our kids getting complacent by any stretch of the imagination. Our coaches have to work our tails off and study and get these kids better because we're here for them, they're not here for us.”