By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Unbeaten Champlin Park meets Apple Valley Saturday in the Class 4A title game. It’s a rematch — Champlin Park won in their regular season meeting.

Champlin wins because they have an outstanding senior class, and an outstanding senior guard to run the show — McKinley Wright. The team features 11 seniors on this year’s squad. They’ve grown up together, they’ve sweat together and they’ve won together.

“It means the world,” Champlin Park coach Mark Tuchscherer said. “These boys, 11 seniors, outstanding dedication to the game of basketball and to each other. Really, they put in the time. We’ve got boys that get up at 5 in the morning to get shots up. We’ve got guys that lift after games.”

At the heart of it is a point guard named McKinley Wright. He’s the catalyst for the team’s success, and a gym rat that loves the game.

“I live in the gym,” he said. “Outside of practice, I work out even on the weekends, stuff like that. Living in the gym, getting a ton of shots up, working on ball handling — anything to become a better player.”

He’s uncanny — hardly 6 feet, yet he seems everywhere on the floor, always on the attack and always ready to make a play.

“He’s pretty darn humble, and that’s a credit to him,” Tuchscherer said. “He knows how good he is, he has tons of confidence, but there’s a difference between confidence and cockiness, and we talk about that, too. He really lives that confident, kind of chip on his shoulder, but he’s got that leadership.”

As Wright knows, the game is not about size — it’s about competing. He says he loves the challenge of competition — it drives him.

“Coach tells me to do whatever I can to win,” Wright said. “I just go out there, I leave it all out there, whether it’s rebounding, guarding the best player, scoring if I have to, finding teammates — anything I can do to win, I’m going to do it. If I’m not scoring, I’m going to find someone else who’s a scorer.”

He’s joined by big Theo John, the low post presence. He’s heading to Marquette this fall.

“I do what I need to — defense, rebounding. I’m getting into offense a little bit more this year, and whatever the team needs me to do, I’m there to do.”

He’s the man they look for to clog things up, and to clean up.

“It’s been good having a great player like him — he’s heading to Marquette,” Wright said. “A guy like him is great to have on your team. If you get beat off the dribble he’s there to alter a shot at the rim. He averages about six blocks a game, so that’s huge for us. Having that big, physical presence down at the post is great.”

They are the leaders of a senior class that loves the game and loves each other.

“We’re family,” John said. “We work together, we fight for each other. We’re giving it all — 100 percent, 100 percent of the time.”

That’s what makes this weekend sentimental — the 11 seniors winding it down, winning on a buzzer beater and remembering what’s made the journey so special.

“When you’ve got great kids that love the game of basketball — you put that together, you’ve got something pretty special,” Tuchscherer said.

Mike Max