#1 Cherry, unbeaten Columbia Heights headline 4th annual Hall of Fame Winter Classic Saturday January 13

The 4th annual Minnesota High School Basketball Hall of Fame Winter Classic will feature #1A-ranked Cherry vs. #14AAA, unbeaten Columbia Heights and #14AA Blake this Saturday, January 13, at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids. Boys and girls games, varsity and JV, will run all day starting with the girls JV action at 9 a.m. The boys games are as follows:

Bloomington Jefferson vs. Robbinsdale Armstrong JV 2:30 p.m varsity 4:15 p.m.

Columbia Heights vs. New Ulm JV 4:15 varsity 6 p.m.

Blake vs. Cherry JV 6 p.m. varsity 7:45

This year’s field also highlights the difficulty of putting together these kinds of games a year-and-a-half ahead of time. By that I mean to note that we thought we had Daniel Freitag in the field, but he as you surely know has moved from Jefferson to Blake this year, preparatory to moving on to the U. of Wisconsin next year. Columbia Heights also lost guard Jason Udean to a transfer to DeLaSalle, but then Zy’lerre Stewart transferred from Totino-Grace to Columbia Heights, and the Hylanders remain unbeaten into the new year.

Meanwhile, New Ulm did not lose any transfers, but has had a hard time regaining its edge this year. The Eagles were 21-6 a year a go, but have already lost 5 this year, including losses to Jordan, Redwood Valley and Waseca, all of whom they defeated a year ago. They were rated a high as #13 in pre-season polls, but are unranked today. And, yet, they still have an imposing lineup led by 6-5 senior forward and Minnesota State Mankato commit Colton Benson, who scored 28 ppg last year and is scoring 25 so far this year to become New Ulm’s all-time leading scorer. He’s supported by 6-s senior guard James Osborne, as yet uncommitted in both basketball and football, and his 19 ppg; plus 6-9 senior post Nathan Firle, averaging 13 ppg and 11 rebounds. It’s true that 2 of the Eagles 7-man rotation have been out with injuries, and we expect that come March, the Eagles will be a Section 2AAA matchup that nobody is going to want.

They meet a tough, undefeated opponent tomorrow in Columbia Heights with its own 7-man rotation, made up almost entirely of perimeter players, so the contrast is styles with New Ulm should be pretty much classic. 6-2 senior Randy McClendon leads the way with 27 ppg, while the 6-1 Stewart, who is described as “electric,” adds 19, 5-8 senior Jeremy Davis 14, 6-3 junior Cameron Smith 10, and so on. Of their 8 wins, the last 5 have all been by 30 points or more, so New Ulm will have its hands full. We’ll have to go with Columbia Heights, let’s say 83-76.

#1A Cherry, with its high octane attack led by Minnesota Gopher recruit Isaac Asuma, comes to the Twin Cities in search of tougher competition for the 3rd time this year. They won an entertaining 73-69 game against Holy Family at the Breakdown, then lost 2 to Class AAAA opponents Forest Lake and Park Center a couple weeks ago at Hamline. Asuma attacks the rim on offense and gets into the passing lanes on defense, while his teammates, including brothers Isaiah andNoah, just a freshman and a sophomore, respectively, all play a fast competitive game. Blake will also compete. They’re led by 6-2 senior guard Grayson Okoronkwo and his 20 ppg, and he is amply supported by 6-7 juniors Omar Kaba (15 ppg) and Ian Schnabel (10 ppg), plus 6-2 soph guard Carson McMichael (13 ppg). This should be a competitive full-court game, but Cherry has to be favored, let’s say 76-71.

Finally or, well, firstly at 4:15 p,m. the boys will take the main court at Anoka-Ramsey in the form of Jefferson vs. Armstrong, 2 teams that once had vastly higher expectations than their current results–that is, Jefferson at 3-8, and Armstrong at 4-6. In the case of Jefferson, of course, the loss of Freitag, regarded as one of Minnesota’s top 3 seniors, was devastating, and they’re rebuilding around a pair of 6-0 guards–junior Marcus Horton (17 ppg) and freshman Isaac Feller (10 ppg).

Armstrong, meanwhile, has bounced back with 3 straight wins against solid opponents (Farmington, Rogers and Spring Lake Park) after a streak of 5 straight losses. Part of that is the return of senior forward Seth Newbern from an injury. He’s now scoring 21 ppg with 8 rebounds since his return, and is supported by junior point guard Desmond Ware with 12 ppg, 3 rebounds and 2 assists per game. We would have to expect Armstrong to extend its recent winning streak, we’re thinking maybe 63-60.

Here in summary is some of the talent you’ll see tomorrow at Anoka-Ramsey.

F-Colton Benson, New Ulm 6-5, senior, 25 ppg

F-Omar Kaba, Blake 6-7 junior 15 ppg

PG-Randy McClendon, Columbia Heights 6-2 senior, 27 ppg

CG-Isaac Asuma, Cherry 6-3 senior 19 ppg

SG-Grayson Okoronkwo, Blake 6-2 senior 20 ppg


C-Nathan Firle, New Ulm 6-9 senior 13 ppg-11 reb

F-Seth Newbern, Armstrong 6-1 senior 21 ppg-8 reb

CG-James Osborne, New Ulm 6-2 senior 19 ppg

CG-Zy’lerre Stewart, Columbia Heights 6-1 senior 19 ppg

SG-Marcus Horton, Jefferson 6-0 junior 17 ppg