Coaching worlds collide
If John Wooden was dubbed the “Wizard of Westwood,” longtime Minot High coach Gene Manson is the “Wizard of Minot.” An absolute legend, who kept the Magicians at the top of the North Dakota high school basketball world for most of the 1990s.
Now, the mastermind behind Minot’s last five boys basketball state championships sits on Fargo Davies’ bench as an assistant. His son, a star on the 1988 and 1990 title-winning squads, is the Eagles’ head coach.
Minot coach Dean Winczewski served as an assistant under the younger Manson for a season at Grand Forks Red River. And Minot assistants Brian Hornecker, Mike Upton and Eric Pearson have extensive familiarity with the Manson family.
Hornecker was Gene Manson’s right-hand man for 17 years. Upton played for him in the early ’90s and Pearson coached the Magicians freshman squad during Manson’s tenure.
At 6 tonight, coaching worlds collide when West Region No. 4 seed Minot takes on East Region champion Davies in the Class A state quarterfinals at the Minot State Dome.
“It’s a mixed emotion type of deal,” Manson said. With three sons graduated from Minot High, my wife taught there, I was there for 27 years, you can imagine the emotions you have coming back.”
The Magicians seek their first semifinal appearance since 2007, the last season of Manson’s tenure. He followed fourth-year coach Bart Manson, North Dakota’s Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American in 1991, to Davies. The Eagles’ program is in just their fourth year.
“It’s going to be a little weird,” said Bart Manson, who played with Winczewski at Minot State. “I’ve known those guys for a long time. We’ve never played Minot since I’ve been at Davies. I remember at Red River, I coached against my dad. I imagine it will be similar.”
Winczewski said communication has been non-existent this week.
“No, you don’t talk to whoever you’re playing,” he said matter-of-factly.
But the assistants have sent a few playful jabs back and forth.
Last season, Minot missed the state tournament and Davies qualified. Gene Manson gave Hornecker’s son, Ryne – a member of Manson’s final Minot High roster – a Davies shirt to don at the big dance.
“I asked Brian which T-shirt is Ryne going to wear for the opening game. He said Ryne knows that he’ll be cut out of the will if he doesn’t wear a Minot shirt,” Manson said, with a laugh.
Minot (16-6) needs to shut down, or at least contain, Davies senior guard Tanner Kretchman in order to have the last laugh. Kretchman, the East Region outstanding senior athlete, averages 28.7 points per game and shoots 40 percent from long range. His perimeter counterpart, senior Andrew Kozlowski, boasts a 19.3 scoring average and is a 41.1-percent 3-point marksman.
The second-ranked Eagles, winners of 12 straight, average a state-best 84.6 points per game.
“It’s not like they have just those two guys,” Winczewski said. “Obviously, we have to slow down Kretchman and limit what he does, but it can’t just be 5-on-1. We’ve gotta make sure we’re sound defensively and we defend the way we’re capable of.”
Conversely, the fifth-ranked Magicians focus on defense, where they hold opponents to 63.2 points per game. And they’re balanced offensively. Juniors Dakota Halvorson (13.4 ppg) and Noah Bosh (12.9), senior Colter Hustad (11.3) and sophomore Braydon Lund (10.1) each average in double figures.
Minot aims to return to the statewide dominance it held when it reached the Class A tournament 17 straight times. The Magicians haven’t won a state title since 1999. The championship hardware is three wins away, and the first contest comes against a pair of old pals.
“Minot was the dominant program in the 1990s and we’re trying to get back to that standard that they set back then,” Winczewski said. “It takes time and it’s a process, but we feel like this (returning to state) is a nice step forward.”
Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.