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Since 2000, Hopkins High School has won eight boys' state basketball titles. Back in 2014, their roster featured a future NBA player and multiple future Division I athletes.
Entering that year’s Minnesota state tournament, Hopkins was one of the favorites, and they quickly advanced to the semifinal game.
"Hopkins averaged about 88 points a game that year," says Jon Miller, then an assistant coach for Shakopee High School, Hopkins' 2014 semifinal opponent. "And they just were a high-octane, fast-paced juggernaut."
Hopkins head coach Ken Novak says Shakopee played a very different style.
"They played a slow-down game, and generally their scores were probably in the 40s and 50s," he says. "And so it was definitely a big contrast."
"I mean, the betting odds were us not to probably be within 15, 20 points that game," Miller says.
But Miller had a strategy to give his slower, underdog team a chance: the zone defense. That’s when each player guards an area of the court, instead of a player. Shakopee players would pack in close to the basket they were defending. And they weren’t gonna leave.
'I Knew We Were Gonna Take The Last Shot'
On March 13, the two teams met for the semifinal game at the Target Center, the home of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Ken Novak says there were about 14,000 fans in the arena.
And Shakopee’s zone was working against the favored Hopkins team.
"We weren’t necessarily hitting shots, and we weren’t getting clean looks," says Kamali Chambers, who was Hopkins' senior point guard. "It was pretty back and forth."
With 2:43 left in the second half, the game was tied at 41-41.
Chambers brought up the ball for Hopkins.
"And I was just tired at this point," Chambers recalls. "So, like Coach, he wanted us to get in our motion, and he gave the hand signal for it."
But Chambers didn’t run the play his coach was calling for. Instead, he just stood there. No one was coming up to pressure him, so Chambers figured he’d catch a breather.
"And then, like, after 30 seconds of it, I kinda looked over to Coach, and he kinda gave me his little laugh," Chambers says. "He kinda just sat back. And then, at that point, I just knew we were gonna take the last shot of the game."
'A Battle Of Wills'
See, in the Minnesota high school state basketball tournament, there is no shot clock. That means teams can hold onto the ball indefinitely.
So for the next two minutes, Chambers just held onto the ball. And Shakopee just hung back in their zone that had worked the whole game.
"And so it was like the battle of wills," Miller says.
With just 19 seconds left in regulation, Hopkins got the ball to sophomore guard Amir Coffey. Coffey took the shot, but the floater missed.
"After regulation ended, that’s when Coach said, 'You know, we’re gonna win the tip. And, when we win the tip, we’re just gonna take the last shot,' " Chambers remembers.
In other words: If Hopkins won the tip, they’d hold the ball for nearly all five minutes of overtime and take the last shot.
"With that situation, we can’t lose," Novak says. "We only can win. And that’s a good situation to have."
Hopkins did win the tip. Chambers dribbled the ball just past half court, and Shakopee didn’t pressure.
"Now, the overtime is five minutes," Novak says with a chuckle. "So five minutes is a long time to hold the ball."
In the closing seconds, a Hopkins layup was blocked, and Chambers's desperation three pointer also missed.
In the next overtime, Hopkins won the tip again. Now, if you’re thinking that either of these teams might switch up its plan, you’re wrong. Shakopee still didn’t leave the zone, and Chambers again held onto the ball.
This time, Hopkins maybe stalled a little too long. They didn’t get a shot up before the buzzer went off.
By this point, the fans were getting pretty frustrated with a basketball game featuring about as much action as watching the court get mopped. And they were booing.
Then in the third overtime, mercifully, Shakopee finally got the ball.
"They won the tip," Chambers says. "And then we knew we were gonna play."
It had been 12 minutes since either team had scored. And, unlike Hopkins, Shakopee didn’t stall for a final shot. They took a 44-41 lead right off the bat.
"When they scored, I would say you would’ve thought it would be a Game 7 of the Finals, [and] somebody hit a big shot — it kind of erupted," Chambers jokes.
Late in the third overtime, Hopkins tied the game with a corner three pointer. The two teams were headed to a fourth overtime.
Hopkins won the tip again, and everyone knew what was coming next: For more than four-and-a-half minutes, Chambers would hold the ball near half court.
In the final 16 seconds, Hopkins tried to make a play for the night's leading scorer, Jacob Wright. But when the ball finally got to Wright, his foot was out of bounds.
An opportunity lost. Shakopee now had the ball with 5.9 seconds to go. The game was tied at 46.
Coming out of a timeout, Chambers was set up at half court. His job was to make sure that none of the five Shakopee players got behind him for an easy basket. But, as he waited for Shakopee to inbound, he could only count four players in front of him.
"And then I was looking for the fifth. And I was, like, ‘Oh, no. He’s behind me,' " Chambers says.
One of the Shakopee players had snuck away for what appeared to be a wide open pass to the basket.
"They inbounded the ball, and I just sprinted like a full-out sprint," Chambers says.
Chambers was able to get there just in time to steal the pass. And Hopkins called timeout with two seconds left in the fourth overtime.
'We're Gonna Go To Fifth Overtime'
After sticking with the zone the entire game, Shakopee assistant Jon Miller wondered if he should switch things up now.
But he thought, " 'Why would I do something different when this has been super effective?' And I'm just thinking — worst-case scenario, I'm like, 'OK. They're gonna get it. They'll just pretty much have a three-quarter court heave to the basket. And we're gonna go to fifth overtime.' "
With two seconds on the clock, Hopkins inbounded the ball to Amir Coffey, who took the shot for Hopkins at the end of regulation. Coffey took two dribbles before taking a heave from behind the half court line.
"What were you thinking when that ball went up in the air?" I ask.
"I'm like, 'There's no way. In a state tournament game, no one hits something like that,' " Miller responds.
Coffey nailed it. The final score: 49-46 Hopkins. Hopkins was going to the 2014 state title game.
"It was heartbreaking," Miller says. "It still — I mean it's been six years, and I still have flashbacks and nightmares about, 'What should I have done? What could we have done?' "
Hopkins won, but not because of their ball-stalling.
"That’s the irony of it," Novak says. "I mean, it’s not like the strategy ended up working."
After the game, many called for Minnesota basketball to adopt the shot clock. But, six years later, they still haven’t.
Maybe it’s just more fun that way.
This segment aired on March 7, 2020.
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