Posted On: 01/1/21 9:33 AM

I don’t know about you but I, for one, am happy that 2020 is now in the rear view mirror. What a year! The next 12 months can’t possibly as bad, can it? In spite of all the trepidation, turmoil and tragedy, there were some good memories, too. It’s our mission, on the first day of 2021, to chronicle some of the best Minnesota girls basketball highlights from the past 365 days.

It wouldn’t be difficult to recap the low points. There were a lot of them. I’ll remember the grim faces of Minnesota State High School League officials on the day they learned the state tournament was unlikely to be completed; the frustration and uncertainty surrounding the beginning of the AAU season and then a similar scenario repeating itself over the past few weeks. As usual, however, we’re choosing to remember the high points as we all look forward to better days ahead.

Here, in somewhat chronological order, are the most memorable moments of 2020.

Mara BraunMaraBraun5'11" | CGWayzata | 2022State#21NationMN vs Paige BueckersPaigeBueckers5'11" | CGHopkins | 2020StateMN

It was Valentine’s Day when Wayzata faced Hopkins for the second time. The Royals came out on top, of course, and it wasn’t a close game at all. With a packed gym at Wayzata, and a bevy of media outlets on hand to record every moment of the event, the stars of the show were Paige BueckersPaigeBueckers5'11" | CGHopkins | 2020StateMN and Mara BraunMaraBraun5'11" | CGWayzata | 2022State#21NationMN. The battle between the two luminaries turned out to be one for the ages as the two stars traded blows from start to finish. I remember the first time I saw Mara in the 7th grade and was blown away by her potential. This game was the first time the masses realized that Braun could go toe-to-toe with the best 18-year-old player on the planet. Bueckers finished the game with 27 points, Braun had 29, and it was a pure magic.

Maren Meets World

We had been writing about Becker’s Maren WestinMarenWestin5'8" | CGBecker | 2023StateMN for more than a year, and we had seen her do a lot of amazing stuff with the basketball in her hands. Day one of the state tournament was when the larger world of college basketball saw first-hand what we had been seeing. Becker’s encounter with Waconia was Maren’s debut on the big stage and she wasted no time showing what she is capable of. Westin knocked down mid-range jumpers and got to the rim. She nailed some three-pointers and beat defenders one-on-one in spectacular fashion. In short, she was excellent. I was sitting with several Division 1 coaches that day and they were impressed. By halftime all that had gathered agreed that Westin is the real deal. She shot 7-for-9 for 19 point and Becker went home with the W.

The Virtues of Video

When the beginning of the AAU season was delayed indefinitely we weren’t sure what we were going to do. If there were no games, there would be no opportunities to evaluate. It was a daunting set of circumstances and nobody knew when it might end. That’s when the kids got to work, showing their resilience and creativity by posting individual workouts to social media and putting out highlight videos of their high school season. It quickly became clear that video was the answer. We published our first video evaluations on April 4th and didn’t finish pumping them out until the first week of June. I wrote more than two dozen and my colleague Nate Wahl wrote a bunch, too. I think we profiled more than 150 players and it worked out well because the college coaches were reading what we wrote and watching what we watched.

A Socially Distanced Sunburn

When practice finally resumed in June we experienced more firsts. Coaches had to get creative with their practice sessions, and there was a lot of hand washing and ball cleaning and general joy from all involved at being able to be back on the court. And, for the first time ever, I got sunburned watching practice! The first official workout I attended was on a Monday night at a park in Eden Prairie where I sat in the shade and watched the girls of Minnesota Fury 2022 UAA have a much-needed reunion and a lot of laughs as coach Tim Ellefsen did his best to lead a socially-distanced practice session. From Waconia to Shoreview and beyond, I went to a lot of parks and watched a lot of outdoor basketball during those first couple of weeks of June. It was great to be back, even in this strange new format.

Olivia’s Six Days of Summer

My first AAU event of the summer was the Great 8 Showcase in Ames, Iowa. We were all a little bit nervous heading into the tournament, not knowing if the event would be run safely, not knowing how the kids would play after such a long layoff. Our fears were quickly allayed on both fronts and the basketball was surprisingly good. The biggest story those first couple of weeks was the play of uber-talented guard Olivia OlsonOliviaOlson6'1" | CGBenilde-SM | 2024StateMN of Fury 2024 UAA. The long, fluid freshman-to-be dazzled us all with her unique skill set and athletic ability as Olivia had a stretch of five or six days where she was simply stunning. We saw Emma DasovichEmmaDasovich6'1" | PFMinnetonka | 2024StateMN, Laura HaugeLauraHauge5'9" | SGSt. Croix Lutheran | 2024StateMN and some of the other top 2024s that weekend, too, and it was a preview of what we’d watch in the weeks ahead. By the time fall rolled around Olson had been named the #1 prospect in the Prep Girls Hoops class of 2024.

Hanna + Hanna + Hanna

We don’t normally watch a lot of 7th graders, but this year was the exception. We saw more than usual during AAU events, but it was at the inaugural Prep Girls Hoops/Jr All-Star Fall Exclusive where we had a chance to look more closely at some of the up-and-coming stars from the Class of 2025. That’s where we met the Hanna triplets from Maple Grove, a trio of talented sisters who made their presence felt at the event right out of the gate. We love the energy and passion and skill that Lexi HannaLexiHanna5'8" | SFMaple Grove | 2025MN, Addie Hanna and Bella Hanna bring to the table, but these three are just the tip of the iceberg in the ’25 class which includes such talents as Aaliyah Crump of Hopkins, Jordan OdeJordanOde5'11" | CGMaple Grove | 2025MN of Maple Grove, Ella KuhlmanEllaKuhlman5'7" | PGNorth Branch | 2025MN of North Branch, Tori Schlagel of Eden Prairie, Addison Mack of Minnehaha Academy, Zahara BishopZaharaBishop5'8" | CGRichfield | 2025MN of Richfield, Sophie HawkinsonSophieHawkinson5'6" | PGWayzata | 2025MN of Wayzata and many more.

Opportunity Knocks

Players need to make the most of their opportunities and the 2nd annual Prep Girls Hoops Top 250 Expo was one of the best occasions of the year for kids to showcase their skills. When I arrived at the Lindbergh Center in Hopkins on Oct. 3rd for the event one of the first kids I ran into was Mikayla AumerMikaylaAumer5'8" | CGCambridge-Isanti | 2022StateMN of Cambridge-Isanti. She played with the top Metro Stars 2022 team during their brilliant three-week run at the end of the AAU season, primarily filling a supporting role and doing a lot of the important stuff that can sometimes go unnoticed. I reminded her when we spoke that she needed to showcase her own skills at the Expo and not defer to others as much as she had been doing. Mikayla took my message to heart and began the day with one of the finest performances we witnessed all year. As our colleague Mason Asher wrote in his review of the top 2022 performers at the event, “Aumer was on fire from the opening tip. She was playing aggressive with the ball and getting to the rim at a very high rate. Aumer was also shooting the lights out as in the first game she had close to 25 points. It was the top offensive display of the day and really showed us what she is capable of…” Tons of kids turned in great performances at the Top 250, making the most of their opportunity, as well.

Recruiting Redux

AAU basketball is good for a lot of things, but the primary reason for its existence in this day and age is as a venue for college coaches to watch college prospects try to earn college scholarships. The idea that coaches would not be allowed to watch probably hadn’t occurred to anyone before now. It was a given. This summer, however, not a single Division 1 coach was allowed to set foot in the gym. Nobody knew what the implications of that might be but, in the end, things worked out just fine. Video streaming blossomed, coaches adapted to campus visits via Zoom, and scouting/media entities like Prep Girls Hoops became more important than ever as coaches reached out in search of vital information. As of New Year’s Day more than 100 Minnesota seniors have made college commitments, including 31 each at the D1 and D2 level. Another nine players from the 2022 class have announced D1 commitments.

A Resumption of Play

I am not going to lie: this second shutdown of girls basketball in Minnesota over the past few weeks has been hard. It’s not that we haven’t had things to write about. We did all of our big rankings update in November and early December and we have been writing conference previews of the pending high school season ever since. The uncertainty of if and when play might resume, what it might look like and how it will impact everyone involved has been tough. The recent announcement that practice will resume on Jan. 4 and games 10 days later was definitely a highlight during the waning days of 2020. Although there has been some whining and gnashing of teeth about players having to wear masks – to me that’s like complaining about having to pay taxes on your Powerball winnings – I am just happy we’re going to be playing basketball soon. I have definitely missed it.

A Word of Thanks

It has been a tough year. There’s no question about that. For the Prep Hoops organization, however, it has been amazing. Even during the spring shutdown you stuck with us and supported what we do. Demand for a spot in the Top 250 Expo exceeded capacity. The first Fall Exclusive was a huge success. The announcement of a national girls circuit for 2021 was super exciting. And our subscriber growth hasn’t missed a beat. Subscriptions are still the lifeblood of the business. That’s what pays the bills and enables us to do what we do and more and more people continue to sign on. The growth over the past few years has been incredible and for that we say ‘thank you.’ We look forward to sharing the stories of Minnesota girls basketball in 2021 and beyond, come hell or high water.

Top photo: Mara BraunMaraBraun5'11" | CGWayzata | 2022State#21NationMN of Wayzata shared a post-game moment at the Fall Exclusive with Ronnie PorterRonniePorter5'2" | CGComo Park | 2022StateMN, Kaylynn AsberryKaylynnAsberry5'5" | PGComo Park | 2022StateMN and Cloey DmytrukCloeyDmytruk5'10" | PFComo Park | 2022StateMN of Como Park.