The dynamic five: East Ridge starters work together for one common goal
Before every East Ridge boys' basketball game, the starting five get together and huddle up.
Those 30 seconds allow Courtney Brown Jr., Zach Zebrowski, Patrick Lynott, Ben Carlson and Kendall Brown to take a deep breath and focus on one task: winning.
This isn't new for these five players as they grown up playing together in youth basketball and especially last season. Lynott wasn't a starter for the Raptors, but had a share of minutes and created a strong dynamic heading into the 2018-19 season.
"These players make up a dynamic starting five," said head coach Bryce Tesdahl. "They know each other's strengths and utilize it for each game. It's great to see as a coach, (to) watch these players work together for one common goal."
These five players were together last season when East Ridge fell short in the section finals to Cretin-Derham Hall. Now, they're back for not only revenge, but a chance to get to the state tournament and compete for a state title.
The first couple of steps are complete this season. The Raptors finished the regular season 24-2, including a perfect 16-0 record and a first-place finish in the Suburban East Conference.
Those records, and a 9-0 mark in section games, gave East Ridge the No. 1 seed in the Section 4AAAA tournament. And after a dominating win against Woodbury on Wednesday, the Raptors are two games away from reaching the state tournament.
"We've had that goal in the back of our mind throughout this season," Brown Jr. said. "We continue to push ourselves every day to reach that goal in the end."
Each player on the starting five has their role on the court. Of course, that role can expand if needed, but the roles correlate to their strengths.
Zebrowski is the senior point guard, watching the play evolve while bringing the ball up the court. He understands how to change plays if needed, but he can also drive the ball to the hoop or step back for a 3-pointer.
Zebrowski was the starting quarterback for the East Ridge football team last fall, and earlier this winter he said that helps him during the basketball season because he feels like he has control of the game when the ball is in his hands.
"Since we all know each other, it makes it easier to call plays and find the open man," Zebrowski said. "It also allows us to work together better since we know each other's strengths and weaknesses."
Lynott is the senior 3-point shooter for the team. He always has the green light from behind the arc and is confident that each ball that comes out of his hands will rip through the net.
Tesdahl said Lynott worked hard during the offseason, as well as in practices, to perfect his shot. It's shown throughout the season not only from the 3-point line, but he can also shoot mid-range shots or drive the lane.
"I feel confident with every shot I take," Lynott said. "We've all worked hard this season to continue working on our skills and it's great to see each of us to continue to grow."
Brown is a sophomore, but is capturing the attention of college coaches around the entire country. According to 247Sports, Brown is the top prospect in the state of Minnesota for his class, and he's ranked 27th nationally with a composite score of 0.9917 out of 1.0000.
Brown has the ability to take over a game with his shooting range and his skills in the paint. Tesdahl said Brown can only go up from here with two years left of high school. He's earned seven Division I offers and that number will continue to rise this offseason and into next year as well.
"This has been a fun season for all of us because we've all worked so well together both on and off the court," Brown said. "For me, I've just been continuing to learn and grow from these coaches and my teammates."
Brown's older brother, Brown Jr., has already committed to a Division I school and is enjoying the last part of his senior year. Brown Jr. will be playing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee next year, but this season has been a memorable one for him.
He's on the top of the list for total points in program history as he reached the 1,000-point mark earlier in the season. Brown Jr. understands this is his last season and he's determined to end his high school career at the biggest tournament in the state.
"We all know what it's like to lose in the section finals," Brown Jr. said. "We want to change the outcome this season and we've been working toward that goal all season. Now, it's just time to leave everything on the court."
Carlson is the final player apart of this starting five and he's the other big man in the paint. The 6-foot, 10-inch junior has turned some college heads as he's locked up 16 Division I offers and is ranked fourth in Minnesota for his class and 71st nationally, according to 247Sports.
Even though he spends most of his time in the paint, Carlson has the ability to shoot from behind the arc as well as take a mid-range shot. He's continuing to perfect those skills, but he's confident this team can make a deep run this season.
"We're all best friends both on and off the court and it's allowed us to work better together on the court," Carlson said. "That chemistry has grown throughout the season and it's better than ever now in the section tournament."
These five players have different strengths and different weaknesses, but they all share one common goal and that's to go and compete for a state title.
"You can see them aiming for that goal as they work hard at practices or fight for every point in a game," Tesdahl said. "It's been fun for me to watch each player grow individually, but also grow as a team, together."
Even though the dynamic five will be broken up next year with three seniors graduating, they aren't worried because the traditions and excellence of the program has already been put into place.
"With Kendall and Ben both coming back next season, I'm confident next year's team will be just as dominant," Lynott said. "They will be able to teach the younger players how to play East Ridge basketball."