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Prep boys basketball: Cherry won’t surprise anyone this season

The Tigers made their first state tournament in 25 years, but this season they have their sights set on bringing a state title home.

Cherry’s Isaac Asuma (3) dives to knock a loose ball away from Nevis’ JohnPaul Benson (15)
Cherry’s Isaac Asuma (3) dives to knock a loose ball away from Nevis’ JohnPaul Benson (15) in the second half of the Tigers 68-57 win in the 2022 state quarterfinal at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Since the state tournament, Asuma has emerged as on of the top prospects in Minnesota.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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IRON — In March, Cherry shocked many when the Tigers not only won the Section 7A crown, but advanced to the Class A semifinal against Hayfield.

Despite 36 points from Isaac Asuma against Hayfield, Cherry fell in the state semifinal, 72-61 .

The Tigers’ run to the semifinal was unexpected to everyone except the players, according to head coach Jordan Christianson.

“There were a lot of surprised people in the area and even in the community, but our guys weren’t surprised,” Christianson said. “They knew the work that they put in, they knew how ready they were for all those moments. I remember I told them that there were a lot of surprised people and they were like ‘Why are people surprised?’ I said ‘Because you guys are all tiny, you’re like the smallest, youngest team out there.”

The Tigers were one of the smallest teams in the state tournament, but it was their youth that stuck out. Asuma was a sophomore last season, but still one of the most veteran members of the team. They also started a seventh-grader and an eighth-grader last season.

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This season, they won’t surprise anyone. After Asuma’s performance in Minneapolis last year — which included a 31 point effort in a win over Nevis in the quarterfinal — Asuma has emerged as one of the top basketball prospects in Minnesota. Over the summer, he received scholarship offers from several NCAA Division I schools, including Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State and Nebraska. The offer to play at Minnesota gives Asuma a connection to one of the biggest names in Minnesota basketball: McDonald.

Cherry’s Isaac Asuma (3) drives on Nevis’ Joe Houchin (5)
Cherry’s Isaac Asuma (3) drives on Nevis’ Joe Houchin (5) in the second half of the Tigers 68-57 win in the quarterfinal game of the state tournament Wednesday afternoon, March 23, at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

“I have the distinction of being the last man on the Range to receive an offer from the University of Minnesota,” former Vermilion Community College coach Paul McDonald said. “I’ll happily pass that torch to Isaac.”

The outburst in the state tournament raised the now-junior’s profile, but his hope is to use it as a springboard for even better things.

“I felt like I was playing really well down there during that time — like the best I’ve played in my life,” Asuma said. “I’m just carried that momentum through (Amateur Athletic Union basketball) and now going into the high school season. It just set the floor for how I need to play throughout the season.”

Cherry lost several seniors, including sharpshooting brothers Nick and Sam Serna, to graduation, but with the development of the younger players, the Tigers could be one of the deepest teams in the state.

“The kids have only gotten better,” Christianson said. “We had a couple other kids that were on the fringe of playing varsity, but they had good springs and summers and they’re ready to step in. If the other team wants to try to play four-on-four and take Isaac out of the mix, I know I’m confident and our guys are very confident in their abilities.”

Cherry’s Isaac Asuma (3) gives a high five to his coach Jordan Christianson
Cherry’s Isaac Asuma (3) gives a high five to his coach Jordan Christianson as the buzzer sounds during the Tigers 68-57 win in the quarterfinal game of the state tournament Wednesday afternoon, March 23, 2022, at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. Asuma finished with 31 points and 17 rebounds.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Asuma trusts his teammates — which include Noah Sundquist, Carson Brown, brother Noah Asuma and cousin Isaiah Asuma — to come through when teams are focusing on stopping his game.

“The thing about us is, if they collapse on me, I can kick out to my teammates and they’re going to make plays,” Asuma said. “I trust them to make plays, hit shots and just do their thing. I think that’s what makes our team special — how we play together the right way and everybody can make plays for each other.”

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If the Tigers can make just a few more of those plays, they might just be the last team standing in Class A in March.

Cherry will open its season at Deer River at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1.

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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