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Media members’ thoughts on Final Four

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – When Sports Editor Matt Kane suggested requesting credentials for the Final Four, I figured it was a long shot, at best, that we would be granted them.

I was both surprised and elated when I received an email stating that I would, in fact, be going to the conclusion of the “big dance” as a member of the media.

I needed to figure out how I would cover the event.

Knowing that readers can find game coverage in dozens, if not hundreds, of other places, I knew I needed a unique angle.

Duke was the favorite to win the whole tournament, so, of course, they would be in the Final Four and we would be able to cover Apple Valley’s own Tre Jones, right? Wrong.

It seemed like the second-best bet would be Minneapolis native Reid Travis, who was playing for the No. 2 seed Kentucky Wildcats. But, that didn’t come to fruition, either.

There go our local angles.

Finally, an idea came to me. Why not interview other members of the media about their experiences covering Final Fours and other sporting events, their impressions of Minneapolis, etc.?

Luckily, we were able to attend practice a week ago.

Not only was there access to players and coaches, but also fellow members of the media.

Grant Hill is pictured with Bill Raftery, left, and Jim Nantz, right.

Grant Hill is pictured with Bill Raftery, left, and Jim Nantz, right. (Photo by Matt Kane)

One of those individuals was Grant Hill, who I knew would have a unique perspective as someone who played in three Final Fours, including one in Minneapolis in 1992. This would also be his fifth time calling the game alongside Jim Nantz.

“It’s been a real interesting relationship with the Final Four over the years,” he said.

The first Final Four he called featured his alma mater winning 68-63 over Wisconsin, which he called “pretty special.”

Not only does he enjoy commentating during the Final Four, but he takes it very seriously.

“You get a chance to learn about these teams, coaches, and players, and fall in love with all of it,” Hill said. “You enjoy the stories, enjoy how hard they play, and it’s an awesome responsibility we have to broadcast it. It’s something I really value and appreciate.”

On returning to Minneapolis, he said, “There’s a real sense of pride in this city in hosting a big sporting event.”

I was hoping to interview Nantz, as well, but it quickly became apparent that his schedule would not allow it. However, a CBS representative pointed me in the direction of longtime college basketball insider Jon Rothstein, who has covered the game for 15 years.

I asked about his favorite Final Four moments and teams.

“UConn (University of Connecticut) with Shabazz Napier, in 2014, is one that always stood out,” Rothstein said. “That was always a special one because they were a seven seed and he was so good in that tournament.”

He said he believes each tournament is unique.

“It changes every year,” Rothstein said. “There’s always a different dynamic that makes it really fun to embrace.”

What was that dynamic heading into Saturday?

“There are so many different storylines,” Rothstein said. “Michigan State getting here with limited resources because they didn’t have Josh Langford or Kyle Ahrens. It’s obviously (Chuma) Okeke not being available for Auburn and Texas Tech with, pretty much, a brand new starting five.”

Joseph Goodman, of AL.com, brought a unique perspective with him to Minneapolis. Not only would this be his fourth men’s Final Four, but he has also covered three women’s Final Fours and NBA championships during his time at the Miami Herald.

He said he enjoys covering the college game.

“Just from a logistical standpoint, it’s a lot easier,” Goodman said. “Travel in the NBA wears on you. It’s a fun atmosphere, especially at Auburn basketball games. They have a small arena. It’s extremely loud. Fans are right there in the center of the court. It adds that collegiate feel.”

It’s a little different during the Final Four.

“Hosting them in football stadiums is a money grab, but if they can fill it up, it’d be a great environment,” Goodman said Friday.

They did just that, with more than 72,000 fans both nights.

They kept the decibel level high throughout the weekend, including when Auburn took the court and lost a close game to Virginia.

Goodman was pleased to see Auburn make it to the Final Four, and not just because he covers them.

“Auburn is such an unlikely team,” Goodman said. “It’s such a breath of fresh air compared to Alabama football, which is this machine.”

While the environment surrounding Alabama and Auburn football is very intense, Goodman said, “These Auburn kids are just enjoying it. It’s such an amazing run. The fans are the same way. The energy of this run has exceeded the energy of every Alabama football season because it’s so unexpected.”

His favorite team to cover, though, was the 2006 and 2007 University of Florida teams led by Joakim Noah.

“That second team, in my opinion, was the best college basketball team in the last 30 years,” Goodman said. “Joakim got all those guys to come back for the second run. They all could’ve gone pro.”

Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, and Marreese Speights all joined Noah in being drafted into the NBA. Lee Humphrey was not drafted but, Goodman noted, he set the record for most 3-pointers in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a record that still stands today.

“That team was fire,” Goodman said.

He also took the opportunity to tout the NCAA women’s Final Four.

“The women’s Final Four is an amazing event,” Goodman said. “No one really knows about that, I feel like, but from a reporter’s perspective, it’s so fun to cover because all the kids want to talk and everyone’s really open and wants to have fun and are very engaged.”

They’re also supportive of their male counterparts.

“The off day for the women’s Final Four is the men’s Final Four,” Goodman said. “Wherever they have the women’s Final Four, they have a huge party. One year, it was in Boston, and they rented out Fenway Park for the men’s Final Four. In Tampa one year, they rented out the Tampa Aquarium. They’re really into it.”

Goodman’s insight into both college and professional basketball was very interesting to me.

WCCO Sports Director Mike Max, brother of Delano’s Kevin Max, has also covered a little bit of everything, including five Final Fours.

“There’s a different energy, with the bands, cheerleaders, etc.,” Max said of the tournament.

Regarding Minneapolis hosting the Final Four, he said, “I think we do fine on these things. Everyone has their own signature . . . I love to see the downtown come to life. So many people come in fired up.”

Oh, and, Kevin, if you’re reading this, your brother says, “Hi.”

Minnesota-based journalists Jon Krawczynski, of The Athletic, and Michael Rand, of the Star Tribune, also weighed in before the championship game Monday.

Krawczynski spends most of his time covering the NBA and NFL, but also paid attention to college basketball, in preparation for the Final Four coming to his stomping grounds.

“It’s been fun,” Krawczynski said. “It is something new to me. I’ve done other NCAA tournament games earlier in the rounds but to have the Final Four here has been fun. It’s been well run. It’s been well organized. It’s been easy to get access to coaches and players, which is what you want. I think the atmosphere at the games Saturday was unbelievable, just in terms of the excitement, crowd and all those things.”

He ranked Saturday’s game between Auburn and Virginia right up there with the Minneapolis Miracle in 2018, the NFC title game between the Vikings and the Saints in 2009, and game six of the 2013 NBA Finals when Ray Allen hit a 3-pointer to force a seventh game.

“I don’t think it’s No. 1 or 2, but that was an awesome environment,” Krawczynski said. “It was a great game to watch. Even though it was low-scoring, it was super competitive, really intense, and had big emotional swings. Then, you have the disputed call at the end and, I think, it was a very memorable experience.”

Rand agreed.

“That was pretty cool,” Rand said. “That was something else. It’s up there. I covered the PGA Championship in 2009, when Tiger (Woods) was trying to win the Grand Slam. I always go back to game 163, when the Twins were playing the Tigers a decade ago. That was pretty dramatic, but this was up there.”

I followed up with them after Monday’s nail-biter.

“Yeah, I would say that one probably moves into the top five after watching the game,” Krawczynski said. “Just a tremendous event, great theater, and huge swings in momentum and emotion. Loved every minute of it.”

“I can’t say I was really surprised,” he continued. “I thought Tech would win, and they almost did. It was tight all the way and Virginia just made a few more plays down the stretch.”

“I’d say that was one of the best games I’ve covered in person,” Rand said. “The drama was high, and both teams executed very well down the stretch.”

Following the game, he wrote a column titled, “Were you expecting a low-scoring, boring Final Four title game? Sorry.”

He referenced some of the sentiment from his column in an email to me.

“I was surprised that it didn’t follow the script, but not shocked,” Rand said. “Sometimes, we overrate averages and how things are supposed to play out and discount how much big moments and small sample sizes can change the narrative.”

All the games throughout the weekend, and the entire experience, exceeded my expectations. The fact that it happened here made me proud to be a self-proclaimed Minnesotan in training.

I am appreciative of everyone who made it possible, and everyone who contributed their insights to this column.

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Mid-County Coop’s Spring Newsletter is here!

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FULLY COMMITTED

After impressive high school careers that came to an end at Delano two seasons ago, John Keranen and Andrew Kruse are seeing their dreams come true. The two have committed to hockey and a whole lot more at the Division-1 level

 

Matt Kane
Sports Editor

DELANO — High school athletes who are good enough to play at the Division-1 level commit themselves to a college or university, where, often times the playing fields take a front seat ahead of the classrooms.

Andrew Kruse and John Keranen are natural leaders, and both have worn a letter as the captain or assistant captain at, both, the high school and junior levels of hockey. Here, the two celebrate a Magicians goal against Janesville March 22. Photo by Matt Kane

Andrew Kruse and John Keranen are natural leaders, and both have worn a letter as the captain or assistant captain at, both, the high school and junior levels of hockey. Here, the two celebrate a Magicians goal against Janesville March 22.
Photo by Matt Kane

After stellar high school careers on the hockey rink, John Keranen and Andrew Kruse had those Division-1 dreams coming out of Delano High School in 2017. Uncommitted, both went the junior hockey route for two seasons (a typical path in hockey), and, this winter, both, saw those D-1 dreams come true.

While hockey will take up much of their time and focus, unlike typical college-bound players, Keranen and Kruse will not be allowed to push the academic half of being a student-athlete to the background. The United States Army and  the United States Air Force won’t allow it.

In November, Keranen accepted an offer to play D-1 hockey and serve in the Army at West Point. Two months later, in January, Kruse committed himself to hockey and the service at the Air Force Academy.

“My goal was always Division-1, and I achieved that goal,” said Keranen. “I never expected it to be with Army, but I am very happy with my decision, and I am very excited for my future.”

Both, Keranen and Kruse, took a step back to consider the offers before accepting.

“Right away, I was like ‘Ooh, I don’t want to do that.’ As I learned more about it, I learned it was something I could deal with, and something that would benefit me,” said Keranen. “Although it will be a tough process, I decided it would be best for me to go through that, so I could provide for a family in the future rather than being in debt for school.”

Keranen’s decision greatly influenced Kruse’s.

“We are similar people, as far as our values and goals. I asked him questions, and I realized a military academy was a good fit for me and was something I wanted to do,” Kruse said, referring to talks with Keranen.

Those talks occured often, during their daily commutes together from Delano to the Richfield Ice Arena for practices with the Minnesota Magicians, a junior-level team in the North American Hockey League (NAHL).

“He was in the same boat as me, thinking this doesn’t sound very great, but we are both similar people in what we want to do in life,” Keranen explained of his talks with Kruse. “Once he heard what I learned form my visit (to West point), he was very attracted to what academies had to offer. I know West Point was full for players, so that wasn’t an option. Once he got that call from Air Force, he was pretty excited.”

Air Force began recruiting Kruse in December. A month later, Kruse was on board and committed to head west to Colorado Springs.

“They, obviously, had to look for players with the right character, as well as player who can play,” said Kruse, who had been in talks with other programs, but had not yet received another offer. “They thought I was someone who could have success there, and they liked the way I played. And my grades fit their standards, so it was a good fit.”

 

Read much more about Keranen and Kruse’s decisions and about Delano having four former players playing at the Division-1 level next winter in the March 29 print edition of the Delano Herald Journal.

West Hennepin Public Safety warns of child porn scam

MAPLE PLAIN, MN – West Hennepin Public Safety Department is notifying area residents about a new computer scam.

The scam involves a victim receiving an email claiming that their computer has been loaded with child pornography and they must pay X amount of dollars in Bitcoin or the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be notified.

Once the victim clicks on the link provided, it is forwarded to a malware site that begins downloading child pornography onto their computer system and creates fake entries in their browsing history.

If the victim does not pay, the scammers anonymously tip off the FBI.

Authorities with WHPSD have not yet seen the scam happen in the area, but are alerting residents in an effort to prevent it before it happens.

Authorities also note that the police and their computer forensic teams will be able to recognize if child porn has been planted on a computer.

Maple Plain accepting applications to fill council vacancies

MAPLE PLAIN, MN – Maple Plain is looking to fill two vacancies on its city council following the resignation of Councilman John Timpe Feb. 25 and the resignation of Councilman Dominic Broda Monday.

The city will be holding a special election Tuesday, Aug. 13, to fill the vacancies.

In the interim, the city is accepting applications for individuals interested in being appointed to fill the two open seats.

Applications will be accepted through Thursday, April 4.

Click here for more information about the election, and/or for an application.

Timpe was elected in 2018, and his term was set to expire Dec. 31, 2022.

Broda’s term was set to expire Dec. 31, 2020.