Area cagers play hoops at Target Center

The Lanesboro youth basketball team also traveled to the Target Center to play some basketball. In front, from left, are Kyle Ruen, Aeden Flaby, Logan Twite and Dayton Haugen. In second row are Boone Moen, Holdyn Willford, William Miller, David Harvey, Jerek Schultz and Mason Gilbertson. In back is Coach Mike Willford. SUBMITTED PHOTO
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Imagine getting to play basketball on the same court that Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggens, LeBron James and Steph Curry frequent. Add to that the fact that you’re playing hoops on this NBA court right before a nationally televised game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Portland Trail Blazers will take place.

Two youth basketball teams from Mabel-Canton/North Winn, one from Lanesboro and a fourth from Spring Grove did just that on Friday, Nov. 16.

“I honestly wish someone would have recorded the boys walking through the tunnel and onto the floor because it was priceless,” said M-C/NW Coach Jeff Rein. “I heard, ‘This is the GREATEST DAY EVER!’ ‘This is AWESOME!’ and ‘I can't believe we get to play here!’”

Rein and Lanesboro Coach Mike Willford were two of the individuals instrumental in getting the young basketball players on the Target Center court. Rein explained that this was the second year they attempted to get the kids lined up for the youth hoops program.

“Mike and I tried getting our kids into this last year but the timing just didn't work. We made sure we contacted them early this year and we had about 20 dates to chose from for our kids to play,” Rein stated.

“After we had contacted the Timberwolves and selected our date, each grade had to sell 50 tickets in order to play,” Rein continued. “Each ticket cost $31 dollars, which got you into the youth game and then also into the Timberwolves game that night. For Mabel-Canton/North Winn we had two grades playing up there and we needed to sell 100 tickets. The kids did awesome by selling 137 tickets so we had quite a large crowd up there cheering on our boys.”

The kids from southeast Minnesota didn’t get to utilize the Timberwolves locker room, but stretched and loosened up in the hallway between the locker room and court. Once they got onto the court, they had about 10 minutes to shoot around and get warmed up.

“During the warm ups Timberwolves star Andrew Wiggins walked by along with Wolves rookie Josh Okogie so the kids thought that was pretty awesome,” Rein noted. 

Then, before the T-Wolves game, the kids had an opportunity to try and get autographs and watch the Wolves and Blazers warm up. The kids were allowed to stand close to the court by the tunnel so they got to see every player up close.

“Our kids really enjoyed themselves too,” Willford said of the Lanesboro hoopsters. “One of the boys said it ranked as one of the top five things he’s ever done in his life. This is a wonderful program for the kids and I hope this is something we can continue to do in years to come.”

Willford noted that his kids found it somewhat difficult to sell the required 50 tickets for their team. But because the M-C/NW kids proved to be such good salesmen, the Lanesboro kids were able to use some of those tickets to reach the required number. “We’d like to thank the M-C/NW kids for helping us out with that,” Willford added.

Once the game got underway, the young athletes’ seats were close to the middle of the court in the upper level, which gave them a great view of the game.

When asked if this was something they plan to do again next year, Rein replied, “For sure. We hope next year or the following year we'll be able to give the kids this opportunity again.”

“I would just like to say thank you to all our parents involved with this and allowing their kids to miss a day of school so they could experience playing up at the Target Center,” Rein added. “It was an absolutely awesome opportunity and I know it’s something they'll never forget. My son, Gryffen, plays with the fifth grade and he told me it was the greatest day ever. It was just so much fun watching the kids out there playing a sport they love and the smiles on their faces after they would score or get a steal. Also big thanks to Russell Larson who helped put this together. He also coaches the sixth grade. The Timberwolves were great hosts to all three schools and said they hope to see us back up there playing again soon.”