The news came to Brennan Witt shortly before tip-off, and nearly a full year later, he still insists it caught him off guard.
At the time, the sophomore was coming off a 14-point, 8-rebound breakout performance that three days prior had helped guide the Champlin Park boys basketball team to a 56-48 victory over Robbinsdale Cooper.
The win extended the Rebels an opportunity to meet up with Osseo in the Class 4A, Section 5 final. For Witt, it offered something even more.
“I got to start against Osseo in the section final, and that was a surprise,” he recalled last week. “I was just a sophomore, but it was a huge confidence booster. It was good for me to play with the big guys at that age.”
As is generally the case, the big guys were bigger than Witt that night. That, however, is nothing new for the Rebels.
It is hex Champlin Park has lived with much of head coach Mark Tuchscherer’s tenure. For whatever reason, the combination of legitimate height, size and basketball abilities rarely come through the school.
That has played a huge role in shaping the team’s philosophy of playing bigger than whatever their listed height may be.
According to Tuchscherer, Witt embodies that mold.
“He is one of those guys for sure,” said Tuchscherer. “That’s just the way it is here. You have to play bigger, and Witt does that. He is [6-foot, 4-inches] and he is out there defending guys that are 6-6, 6-8 and even 6-10, but he doesn’t back down from anybody.”
That is evident in the one issue Witt is still trying to refine on the court, which has a lot to do with the aggressive nature he plays with on the defensive end.
Foul trouble has plagued him much of his high school career. Statistically speaking, he is still averaging nearly a double-double – 13.5 points and just about nine rebounds per game this year – but it has been hard for the coaching staff to avoid pointing out what those numbers could look like if he played more.
Last week, for example, he had 18 points and seven rebounds in a 81-66 victory at Maple Grove. But Witt was only on the floor for about half of the game because of foul issues.
A similar scenario played out two days later, when the Rebels lost at home to Robbinsdale Armstrong.
Witt finished with 13 points, but two quick fouls forced him to the bench early. He didn’t register is first four points until late in the half. By then, Champlin Park was already down by 20.
“I know I have to find a way to stay out there,” Witt said. “I have to play smarter on defense, play more with my feet and not my hands, and stop trying to swipe at the ball.”
Tuchscherer did say that most of what is causing what he described at “ticky-tac fouls” is something they can coach him out of.
Fortunately, there is plenty of time, both in this season, and his time at Champlin Park.
Nine regular season games remain in Witt’s junior year, and with the Rebels now 12-5 overall and 7-5 in Northwest Suburban Conference, the team’s goals are still in reach.
Last year’s section championship game appearance did plenty for Witt, but the same could be said for the rest of his teammates.
Champlin Park graduated just one player off that team, and the goal at the start was to rely on that experience to get the Rebels back into at least another section final.
The five defeats have derailed any hope of winning a conference title, but in each loss this year, Champlin Park has responded by following the defeats with at least a two-game winning streak.
“We’ve shown we can bounce back from a loss, and that is what we’ll have to do with this one,” said Tuchscherer following the defeat against Armstrong. “It is a long season, and we are playing for March. We are going to take shots from teams, just like we will deliver some shots, so bouncing make so important. We are not starting all over and scrapping it because of a loss. We are going to get right back to where we were.”
For Witt, the hope is that is on the floor more consistently. Either way, he is a walking stat line, and he understands what his role will be should the Rebels get back into state tournament contention.
“A lot of us played in that game against Osseo last year, and we know what we have to do to get back there,” Witt said. “We’ve been able to regroup and come back and play more as a team. That’s what we need now. We just need a practice or two to regroup and get this squad back playing how we know it can.”