All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Cherry’s Isaac Asuma ‘makes everything smooth’

The junior has led the Tigers to back-to-back Class A semifinals and is the first man on the Iron Range to receive a basketball scholarship offer from the University of Minnesota since 1976.

high school basketball player
Isaac Asuma of Cherry is the Duluth News Tribune boys All-Area basketball player of the year for 2023.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

IRON JUNCTION — A little over seven years ago, Jordan Christianson was a new teacher at Cherry High School.

Conferences had just ended and Christianson was watching some sixth-graders play basketball in the gym. A young Isaac Asuma grabbed a rebound and unleashed what appeared to be a perfect outlet pass to a player streaking down the floor, only for the player to fumble the ball out of bounds.

“The very next possession it’s the same thing,” Christianson said. “The kiddo runs up the floor, Isaac looks up, passes it to him and, boom, right off his hands out of bounds. I’m thinking, ‘Man, if that’s me, I’m probably not going to pass it to him a third time.”

high school boys play basketball
Isaac Asuma (3) of Cherry shoots the ball against Tucker Haroldson (20) of Russell-Tyler-Ruthton during the Class A state semifinal at the Target Center on Friday, March 24 in Minneapolis.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

A few possessions later, it did happen a third time, with the same result.

The next day, Christianson saw Asuma, actually a fourth-grader playing up with the sixth-graders, and asked him about the game.


“He dropped the ball three or four times, I’m like ‘Do you ever think you should just try to get something more downhill,’” Christianson said. “As a fourth grader, he goes, ‘That’s the right play — whether they’re dropping it or not, it’s the right play.’ I was like, good God, you are wise beyond your years, kid.”

Since that day, Asuma has continued making “the right play” and has led Cherry to back-to-back Class A semifinals, averaging 21 points per game, 8.8 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.6 steals this season. He is the first boy on the Iron Range to receive a scholarship offer from the Minnesota Golden Gophers since Paul McDonald in 1976.

The team includes Minnesota recruit and All-Area Player of the Year Isaac Asuma as well as Duluth East's Jobe Juenemann and Hermantown's Blake Schmitz.

Now, Asuma is the News Tribune’s 2023 All-Area Player of the Year.

Putting Cherry ‘on the map’

Heading into the state tournament last season, few people had heard of Cherry, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it community on Highway 37, and even fewer had heard of Asuma.

The then-sophomore exploded in the Class A tournament — Cherry’s first appearance in 25 years — scoring 31 in a 68-57 win over Nevis and 36 in the 72-61 semifinal loss to eventual state champion Hayfield .

“I don’t even know what happened,” Asuma said. “I played some of my best basketball of the year — I think I hit six or seven 3s in one of the games. It was just a great experience for me to be able to showcase my talents on such a big stage and play in front of all those people down at state.”

high school boys play basketball
Isaac Asuma (3) of Cherry dribbles the ball against Cole Gilsdorf (2) of Border West during the Class A state quarterfinal at Williams Arena on Wednesday, March 22 in Minneapolis.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Christianson said Asuma turned in similar performances all season. He was like a well-kept secret on the Iron Range, but the secret was shattered with the 2022 tournament.

“I’ve been singing his praises since he was an eighth-grader,” Christianson said. “I was telling my buddies back in central Minnesota, I’m like, ‘You’ve got to watch this kid play. They said, ‘Oh, it’s a single-A basketball player,’ and ‘I’m like, I’m telling you, man he’s different.’ By the time the state tournament rolled around, he took advantage of the opportunity to really put it on full display.”


The 2023 tournament featured a 68-55 win over Border West , followed by a disappointing 61-57 loss to eventual 2023 Class A champion Russell-Tyler-Ruthton .

Asuma said he was disappointed with the 2023 finish, but he loves attention the Tigers’ play has brought to his community.

“Whenever I was asked about it before, I’d be like, it’s a small town right next to Hibbing, about an hour north of Duluth,” Asuma said. “No one really knew where it was until these past few years when Cherry basketball exploded. It’s nice to finally get everyone to know where Cherry is, even though it’s a super small town. It’s just cool to see it being put on the map.”

A family affair

Asuma’s connection to Cherry athletics goes back generations.

His mother, Jolene Asuma-Stevenson, and aunt, Jean Asuma-Pearson, were 1,000-point scorers for the Tigers, and his uncles and grandparents all played. Even today, Cherry sports is a family affair for the Asumas.

“Some families, they have their lake places in the summer, they go camping or they go on trips and this is what we do,” Asuma-Stevenson said. “We do sports and it’s fun for us — it’s like a big family event. All of our family members, not just Isaac’s mom and dad, but his aunts and uncle and come to every game. That’s kind of our thing, because sports has been such a big part of our lives.”

high school boys play basketball
Isaac Asuma (3) of Cherry takes control of the ball against Dylan Bainbridge (0) of Border West during the Class A state quarterfinal at Williams Arena on Wednesday, March 22 in Minneapolis.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Currently, there are two other Asumas on the Cherry roster, little brother Noah and cousin Isaiah, and, as is typical of teenage boys, they are competitive over almost anything.

“We lived together when they were growing up for a while, so they’ve always been like brothers and they’re still really close,” Asuma-Stevenson said. “Those three, they push and motivate each other and they’re always going to find a competition. Even if it’s doing chores at home, they’ll make a competition out of it.”


Noah, a freshman at Cherry getting some interest from NCAA Division I baseball programs, said his brother is “good at everything.”

“If he picks up a tennis racquet, he’s probably going to beat most people at it,” Noah said. “Just random things, it just feels like he’s better than most people.”

There is one exception to the “good at everything” rule, according to Noah. Asuma said he enjoys singing in the shower, but younger brother isn’t a big fan.

“I have heard him and I do not think he is good,” Noah said with a laugh.

Always smiling

high school basketball player
Isaac Asuma of Cherry is the Duluth News Tribune boys All-Area basketball player of the year for 2023.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

One thing almost everyone notices about Asuma when they see him is the young man almost always has a smile etched across his face.

Even when he’s not smiling, Asuma looks like he will at any second.

Some talented players don’t bring a great attitude into practice, but that’s never been a problem for Asuma.

“With Isaac it’s just so evident, you can come watch three minutes of our practice,” Christianson said. “He’s a great teammate, he’s extremely coachable, team-first and most importantly, he just has fun. We talk a lot at practice that basketball is the best game in the world, but first and foremost games are supposed to be fun and Isaac really embodies that.”


high school boys play basketball
Isaac Asuma (3) of Cherry cheers for his team from the bench after getting three early fouls against Border West during the Class A state quarterfinal at Williams Arena on Wednesday, March 22 in Minneapolis.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Asuma approaches the game with a positive attitude that accepts mistakes are going to happen in basketball, just like NBA stars Steph Curry and LeBron James, but he tries to move on.

“I love playing basketball, it’s my favorite thing to do, so I might as well go and have fun,” Asuma said. “Especially when I’m succeeding playing, it just makes it even better. But if I have a turnover, it’s like, ‘Oh well, next point.’ There are a ton more possessions to get it back, so I don’t dwell on anything too long and I’m successful and so it’s easy to move on and smile about it — not my mistakes. They’re mistakes and we’ve got to get better from them, but anything that happens, I can get through.”

While Asuma has all the physical skills to play college basketball, it’s the cool, unflappable demeanor and his ability to lead his teammates that had NCAA Division I coaches salivating. Christianson said Cherry coaches are often asking Asuma for what his thoughts are about changes in strategy and often they implement his suggestions.

“The trust that we have in him and the trust he has in us, that doesn’t happen that easy in every program,” Christianson said. “The other guys see that too and they look to him for leadership and he’ll provide that. I think he just makes everything smooth. There’s not a lot of bad practices, there’s not a lot of lows, because not only is his game smooth, but just like everything else — his leadership, his ability to help teammates see things on the floor — all those other intangibles are just so high."

News Tribune boys basketball players of the year

Year Player School

2023 Isaac Asuma Cherry

2022 Ayden McDonald Hibbing

2021 Ayden McDonald Hibbing

2020 John Sutherland Grand Rapids

2019 Cade Goggleye North Woods

2018 Quinn Fischer Esko

2017 Jake Skelly Grand Rapids

2016 Brandon Myer Superior

2015 Bjorn Broman Lakeview Christian

2014 Kory Deadrick Esko

2013 Anders Broman Lakeview Christian

2012 Anders Broman Lakeview Christian

2011 Johnny Woodard Duluth East

2010 Dyami Starks Duluth East

2009 Steve Tecker Northwestern

2008 Jay Cary Hibbing

2007 D.J. Winfield Mountain Iron-Buhl

2006 Cory Johnson Duluth East

2005 Cory Johnson Duluth East

2004 Matt Lien Duluth Denfeld

2003 Eric Webb Grand Rapids

2002 Eric Webb Grand Rapids

2001 Rick Rickert Duluth East

2000 Rick Rickert Duluth East

1999 Rick Rickert Duluth East

1998 Steve Battaglia Cloquet

1997 Dusty Rychart Grand Rapids

1996 Leland Swenson AlBrook

1995 Josh Quigley Duluth East

1994 Ryan Giehler Bigfork

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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