South Boys Basketball is Ahead of Schedule

Discussion surrounding the South Boys Basketball team tends to center around how good they can get. The potential is certainly unlimited, but their current-day success warrants a lot more attention.

Henry Creel

Discussion surrounding the South Boys Basketball team tends to center around how good they can get. The potential is certainly unlimited, but their current-day success warrants a lot more attention.

Pablo Resnik, News Editor

South’s 2021-22 season has served as a wake-up call to Minnesota basketball. South’s core players (Jerome Williams, Chiang Ring, Demari Larkins, Temi Omotoyinbo, Jaheim Houts, and Poet Davis) hail from the star-studded MN Spartans AAU program, where they’ve had spotlights on them for years. Yet Covid’s effect on high school sports meant that their formal announcement to the Minnesota basketball landscape and the South student section was delayed. The hype has remained the same, and the on-court results paint a vivid picture.

Their first game of the season saw them dish out a 94-44 blowout to Highland Park, yet the real spectacle began with their second game against DeLaSalle. A tightly contested match – tied at 58 with 1.4 seconds left – sophomore Demari Larkins capped off an impressive night against a storied basketball program with a half-court heave to beat the buzzer, and win the game 61-58. The play amassed thousands of likes on social media platforms, and the discourse in the aftermath pointed to one conclusion — South is legit.

Of the top 25 ranked teams in the state that they played leading up to sections (DeLaSalle, Eden Prairie, Columbia Heights, North twice) they were 1-4 (1-5 including Lakeville North who sits right outside the top 25) indicating that they’re currently in a gray area in the context of Minnesota basketball. They challenged and beat teams at a high level, but remained underdogs against the elite-level State contenders. Yet this position is by no means a pitfall for a team whose core is primarily sophomores, but it begs multiple questions; what does this team need to get to that upper-echelon of Minnesota basketball, and what is this team’s ceiling?

There’s no limit, thinks sophomore star Jerome Williams. “I feel like we have a team full of five-stars”, said Williams when asked about how far this team can go. “Maybe two state championships. I feel like we’ll be the #1 ranked team in the country …I’ve always been confident.”

And his confidence in his roster isn’t without reason. The core squad’s rare mix of outrageous talent and almost-familial chemistry means the sky truly is the limit. The knowledge of roles and strategic understanding that comes with playing with your teammates since childhood creates a fluid team that plays to each player’s strengths. And a team already flowing this well with 2 years left to develop is sounding alarms at the state and national level.

They’re already continually displaying that they can hang with prestigious programs. In one of their last games before the postseason, they blew out Minnehaha Academy 92-58, the 2A powerhouse who was once home of 2021 #5 NBA draft pick Jalen Suggs and currently projected #2 pick in the upcoming NBA draft Chet Holmgren. Minnehaha has taken a fall from grace since their world-beating form, and while their current roster is paling in comparison to previous years, they remain 5x state champions in the last 6 years, and ranked #3 in class 2A. Beating them is no joke, especially as a heat-check for a team on a roll like South.

And if anyone was left in doubt by their impressive regular season, their 6AAAA section performance silenced all and any noise. In their first round matchup vs. Southwest, where they were the favorites, they performed to par with a 62-45 victory. In the semifinals, against #2 seeded Hopkins, they came in as supposed underdogs and left the building with a decisive 68-53 victory. And even though in the final they were handed a 77-55 loss at the hands of Wayzata, who is now ranked 2nd in the state, their run raised eyebrows across the state, boosting them to #22 in MN rankings per MaxPreps.

Williams aptly described the team’s dynamic when asked about the roster’s history together. “Off the court, we’re really a family. That helps us on the basketball court because we know each other’s ups and downs and what everyone’s going through and everybody’s strengths and weaknesses. Being family off the court helps on the basketball court, to correct each other and encourage others to do better.” When asked about the identity and play style that culminates out of all of this, Williams kept it straight to the point: “Fast, and intense.”

At the helm of this emerging powerhouse is head coach and engineering teacher Joe Hyser. Currently embarking on his 24th season as HC of South’s men’s basketball team, he’s witnessed in real-time the development of both this new core, and the prestige the team has achieved in the past 2 years. But on the topic of this new core that has become the face of South basketball, he seems to know the talent speaks for itself, as far as on-the-court impact. What he does highlight, however, is the character of these players, and how it’s impacted the culture in both the locker room and the school itself.

“When you’re as talented as they are, it automatically puts you in a leadership role, players look up to them”, says Hyser. “And when they’re also really solid people, and they’re our hardest workers, everyone else falls in line and does what they do. They’re leading by example. They’re doing that in the hallways too. Our other players are doing the same thing, getting to class, grades getting better. That’s the impact of leadership, and that’s what they are, they’re leaders.”

This influence, in leading by example throughout the school day, hasn’t only been noticed by Hyser. “From talking to the security staff here, the hall monitors, the administration, they have noticed a big difference in how our kids act. They’re not in the hallways, they’re getting to class.” The change has not only been noticed within the roster itself, either. “It’s given an example to a lot of kids who probably would be in there in the hallways taking their time and not getting to class… They have an influence… and it’s been noticed by administration and teachers for that matter. I’ve gotten numerous emails from teachers just saying what wonderful young men they are, and that if we’ve got a team like that, they can’t wait to see them play,” says Hyser. 

When it comes to handling the hype, Hyser knows his stars are down-to-earth amidst the spectacle that surrounds them. “It’s the people around them, their families, their coaches who’ve really helped develop their character to where it’s not all about them.”

All signs point towards big things ahead for this roster, and it’s easy to get caught up in expectations for the future. Yet in the present — with a core comprised of mostly underclassmen — this group has shattered all expectations set for them on the court, while creating ripples of influence within the walls of South. There’s no limit to how far this squad can go in the next 2 years, and the players spearheading this group are built for what’s to come.