As the story goes, the 2018 section finals ended in a devastating blow for the East Ridge Raptors boys’ basketball team.
After going 22 and 6 for the season—and coming in strong for sections—East Ridge was behind by 11 in a packed Cretin-Derham Hall (CDH) gymnasium. It was 50-39 with seven minutes left, and it didn’t look pretty. But the Raptors rallied promisingly against rival CDH with minutes to go, only to come up short. They placed second in conference and second in sections and watched CDH walk away with the state title shortly after.
“Basketball is a huge part of the school—the parents, youth program, and booster club are all so supportive,” says head coach Bryce Tesdahl, who has basketball in his blood and started as head coach with the team before the 2017-2018 season. Though the result wasn’t what anyone wanted for the young team, he’s grateful for the community that came around the guys for the entire season—and for the excitement that’s already building for this year and beyond. “There’s a lot of hype, and we’re building the program the right way on and off the court.”
With a desire to carry over the successes of last year—and with last year’s big loss top of mind for many—Tesdahl has noticed a deep commitment this fall from returning and new players alike. They’ve been in the weight room religiously with a weight coach since early August, even though off-season practices are technically optional and tryouts didn’t happen until late November.
“From the perimeter to the post to the rim, we have guys who can really play across the floor,” Tesdahl says. “The first order of business is to get the JV guys over the hump so they really understand what it takes to play at this level. And then we want to do everything we can to put ourselves in the position to win the state title.”
“But the biggest goal?” asks Tesdahl, quick to change the subject from come-from-behind games to community involvement and the others-oriented approach the guys value year-round. “That’s really for them to take the next step in life. To be quality citizens.”
Meet the Guys
Coach Bryce Tesdahl
High school career points playing for his alma mater, the Crosby-Ironton Rangers: 1,943
School: Tesdahl graduated from—and then coached at—Bemidji State University
What are you most looking forward to this season? “Competing for a conference, section, and state title.”
What makes this team different from other groups you’ve coached? “We have three legitimate Division 1 players, a great group of seniors, and additional varsity depth from underclassmen.”
What’s your favorite memory from last season? “Seeing the improvement and progress of our boys’ basketball program’s commitment and culture.”
How would the players describe you? “Committed, driven, energetic and passionate.”
Position: Point guard or small forward
What do you love most about this team? “Our chances to win state are pretty high. We’re competitive. We push each other hard in practice and all around, but we also have a lot of fun together every day.”
What are you known for on the team? “Well, I almost set the all-time steals record for the school last year. I probably would have done it if it weren’t for an injury. But I’m a tall guard who can get people the ball. I also love to tell jokes—we make fun of each other, in a fun way.”
What do you have to say to the rest of the student body? “Ha! That we’re going to get them out of school and to that state final!”
Post-high school plans: “Pro, hopefully, in the NBA or overseas. But also engineering; I want to make stuff.”
Position: Small forward, but he fills in at all positions.
What are you looking forward to going into this year? “The team’s going to be really good because we returned most of our players—but there are still a lot of younger guys. We get along well and the chemistry is really strong. It’s the right team to make it to the state tournament, honestly.”
Post-high school plans? “I have 12 D1 college offers right now, and I’m ranked in the top 50 in the country. I used to get nervous about all the scouts and coaches visiting, but I’m used to it now.”
Favorite basketball memory: “During Raptor Madness, there was a scrimmage with a shot contest. Someone from the crowd made all four shots and won a bunch of cash.”
How do the guys describe you? “I hope as a role model. I like to lead by example and I try to do the right thing for the team, even if it’s hard.”
Favorite pre-game meal: “Pasta or chicken, and a smoothie. Always a smoothie.”
Courtney Brown Jr.
Position: Small forward
What are you looking forward to going into this year? “After playing varsity for four years, it’s great seeing how our guys have progressed over the summer and how they’ve been growing. Everyone works hard and we have a common goal: to win state. This is the biggest opportunity in school history.”
Post-high school plans: He’ll commit to playing for one of the colleges he’s narrowed his list to (and probably major in business).
How do the guys on your team describe you? “As a leader. I’m big on bringing out the best in the guys. I also have kind of a short temper. I’m laid back and chill, but on the court? I’m definitely on the competitive side.”
By the Numbers
After going 22 and 7 last year, the Raptors finished 2nd in both their conference and section. In the section finals, they lost to Cretin-Derham Hall, who ended up winning state.
The number of last year’s losses that will have a rematch in the first three weeks of the season. Catch the Raptors against Hopkins on December 1 at Cretin-Derham Hall. December 8 is Prior Lake at Hopkins. A home game against Cretin-Derham Hall is December 14.
Average steals per game Kendall Brown averaged last year. An injury took him out for part of the season, but he was only two steals away from the all-time steals record.
2017-2018 varsity players expected to return this year. “We have a lot of depth and talent at each position,” says Tesdahl.
D1 offers Ben Carlson had by August. He’s ranked in the top 50 high school players in the country.
Cash prize given last year during Raptor Madness, when a member of the crowd made a layup, free-throw, 3-pointer and half-court shot in 30 seconds. Raptor Madness usually happens in late November, with an inter-squad scrimmage, DJ, and opportunities for the community to get to know the new squad.
The amount of time Courtney Jr. and Kendall Brown spend together, according to Courtney. The brothers—sons of Highland Park basketball legend Courtney Brown Sr.—use their off-the-court camaraderie to fuel their competitive partnership on the team.