Rickert retrospective as he writes final high school chapter

For a metro area the size of the Twin Ports, Duluth East basketball standout Rick Rickert is a full-blown sports celebrity. When the Division I college basketball world began calling on Mr. Rickert a few years ago, many Northlanders followed the ...

For a metro area the size of the Twin Ports, Duluth East basketball standout Rick Rickert is a full-blown sports celebrity.
When the Division I college basketball world began calling on Mr. Rickert a few years ago, many Northlanders followed the wooing process, and Rick's ever-slimming list of college prospects with the zeal of "Survivor" addicts. And just like fans of the popular TV show, Rickert's followers debated which upper-tier program would survive the final cut.
To many fans, Rickert's well-rounded game and advanced skills have a magical aura to them, and he has weaved more than one magical game on the many courts in the Duluth-Superior area -- two of which took place last year between the Superior Senior High School Spartans and Rickert's own Greyhounds.
In two meetings, Superior and Duluth East battled through 12 quarters -- eight in regulation and four more in overtime -- to arrive at a split for the season. Superior won the first meeting at home with the aid of an extra period, while Rickert's 37-point explosion and clutch-shooting in OT lifted the Greyhounds to a three overtime victory in the rematch.
The Spartan-Greyhound rivalry fizzled somewhat on Thursday, Jan. 25, when Rickert scored 21 points and Duluth East routed Superior 45-22, but the Spartans got another crack at Rickert and company on Friday when they invaded the SSHS gym.
Slowing down Rickert is a daunting task for any team, let alone the young, inexperienced Spartans, who have struggled at times with veteran teams like the Greyhounds. The 6-foot-10, 220-pound Rickert is currently averaging 26 points, 11 rebounds and 8.4 blocked shots per game. He is shooting 78 percent from the free-throw line, 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the 3-point line.
In preparation for Friday's game, Murphy McGinnis Newspapers sat down with Rickert and Duluth East boys basketball coach Bob Kunze and talked with them about -- among other things -- last year's SSHS-Duluth East contests, Rickert's game and his impending jump into the Big Ten next year.
Murphy McGinnis Newspapers: How has the season gone so far for the Greyhounds?
Bob Kunze: We're just getting comfortable now with who we're playing and establishing our roles. We're working well together and that's been a plus.
MMN: What do spectators notice now about Rick's game?
BK: They'll find out that he's a better passer this year. He looks to pass more, and he's better at anticipating double and triple teams coming, so he passes out of them. He's playing much better without the ball this year than last year. He's constantly moving and is really tough to guard.
MMN: I imagine Rick has seen just about every conceivable type of defense thrown at him this year.
BK: It's a challenge for him, and it's also a challenge for our supporting cast. Teams are always laying off one or two of our guys, and they've got to step in there and make their shots. When they do, we look very impressive. When they don't, then we've got a battle on our hands.
MMN: How fun was it to be involved in last year's Superior-Duluth East games?
BK: Last year's games were memory makers. About three-four years down the road the size of the crowds will probably double. You'll probably hear about 10,000 people being there because they either wanted to be a part of it or heard so much about it they felt they were there. We had two really fun games with Superior last year. Superior had a very good basketball team.
MMN: What was it like playing against Superior last year?
Rick Rickert: That was fantastic. The gyms were just packed, and it was loud. It was a fun atmosphere to play in, and they were good games, too. It stayed close the whole way, they won one and we won one. It was pretty fun playing at both places.
MMN: Where does the Superior-Duluth East rivalry rank with all the other rivalries the Greyhounds have in the Twin Ports area?
RR: I don't know, honestly. Our biggest rivalry right now is with Denfeld. They are a really good team. Superior was probably our biggest one last year because they were so good last year. Now, both Superior and Duluth Central are kind of down this year.
MMN: Does the Superior crowd treat you any differently than how you are treated in other gyms?
RR: No. It's actually a little worse down in the Twin Cities, but it's something you get used to. It's funny, last year they were chanting "over-rated," and then our fans would chant something back. When the crowds go back and forth, that's funny.
MMN: Do you notice anything different with how teams are defending you this year compared to last year?
RR: They had double teams last year, but now they have triple teams and even quadruple teams at times.
MMN: Is there a game that sticks out in your mind at this point in your high school career?
RR: Probably the Superior game, the second time last year.
MMN: Was that one of your best performances?
RR: Not scoring-wise (37 points), but just playing well all-around, being a part of the team and winning.
MMN: How would you grade your team's performance so far this year?
RR: We're doing great. My teammates are starting to step up and hit some shots to free me up a little bit. Teams can collapse three-four guys on me, and that leaves my teammates wide open. That's a mistake because my teammates can hit their shots.
MMN: Do you believe that your goal of reaching state is within reach based on how well the team is playing right now?
RR: At the beginning of the year I wasn't so sure, but now I believe that that's a strong possibility.
MMN: Is it a big relief to have your college choice behind you?
RR: It's a tremendous relief, a load off my shoulders.
MMN: Have you been able to catch any Gopher games?
RR: A few, but not too many. We're actually going down there as a team Saturday to watch the Ohio State game. I've seen some exhibition games, but not a Big Ten game.
MMN: Is there a part of your game that you would like to improve the most?
RR: I would like to get better at every aspect. I would like to get stronger, get quicker, faster, have a better shot and play better defense -- everything.
MMN: With your senior year winding down, are you getting eager for college?
RR: It's always there. You're always thinking about it -- next year and what it's going to be like -- but I'm pretty much focused on this year right now.
MMN: If you wish for anything before graduating from Duluth East, what would you wish for?
RR: A state championship. That would cap it off pretty good.

Rick Lubbers is the sports editor of the Superior Daily Telegram, a Murphy McGinnis Newspaper.

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