There's something to be said for almost everyone on the Whitefish Bay boys basketball team getting into the group concept of celebrating the Chinese/Lunar New Year by wearing red t-shirts with Chinese lettering on them while sitting in the nosebleed seats at the Minnesota Timberwolves/New Jersey Nets NBA game Jan. 28 in Minneapolis.
It was all part of a road trip/team bonding/educational venture/nostalgia tour/good competition adventure all rolled into one by second-year Blue Dukes coach Chris Millner that had at its core a 80-53 loss to Tartan (Minnesota) as part of the Minnesota/Wisconsin Border Battle held in Apple Valley, Minnesota.
"It was a very a successful trip," said Millner. "We've wanted to be part of the Border Battle and we got an invitation from Mark Miller (editor of the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook). I've always liked these kind of trips. When I was in high school (in Illinois), I remember going up there and taking part in scrimmages and games."
"I also knew the Tartan coach a little from a summer trip I took and I was excited to get the kids to the Minneapolis area, because I knew all the fun things we could do there."
The team did some private fundraising, running youth camps in the fall and did the trip a little bit on the cheap, taking vans on the six-plus hour trip.
They started out Friday morning, Jan. 27, and had breakfast at the Broken Yolk on the Marquette University campus, made a pit stop at UW-Stout in Menomonie to get in a short practice and arrived in Bloomington, Minnesota, at about 4 p.m.
The perfect thing about the stopping-off point was it was just five minutes from the Mall of America, which of course they visited.
"We got a lot of good team bonding in," laughed Millner. There was a lot of social media activity going on, too, including a fun team photo in front of the statute of Minnesota hoops legend George Mikan.
The game against 16-1 Tartan was a bit of a struggle. Millner said there were matchup issues as Tartan broke out to a 46-29 lead and Bay was not able to challenge.
Millner played 12 people as Xavier Johnson led the way with 13 points while Demetrius Johnson had 10. Cade Garcia pulled down eight rebounds.
"Without a doubt, that was a very good team we played," Millner said, "but I think we got a lot out of it. Our last two losses have been to state-ranked teams (North Shore leader Cedarburg on Jan. 24). We've had an exceptionally tough series of non-conference matchups. It shows us what we need to work on and hopefully will put us in a better spot."
The contest was the third game of seven in the one-day showcase. It was not a great day overall for Wisconsin teams as they went 1-6 against their cross-Mississippi River counterparts, including losses by state powers Stevens Point, Kaukauna, La Crosse Central and Milwaukee Riverside.
Millner said the Apple Valley High School facility was very nice, a good old-fashioned gym with huge bleachers and he said the stands "were packed" for every game.
The Timberwolves game was a bonus. Millner said the "nosebleed" seats were the only ones he could get where he could gather the entire team together. That's where the Chinese New Year's T-shirts came out.
"It was a fun night," he said. "The halftime show was cool, too. A guy was balancing a 35-pound vase on his head. The kids had a blast."
The team came home on Sunday and Millner began planning future events. A return trip to the Border Battle with a more experienced team next year is being planned while Millner is also looking at other travel opportunities.
"My philosophy is to bring as many fun, interesting opportunities to them as possible," he said. "You only play high school basketball once, so you might as well make it worthwhile."