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The Washburn gymnasium went quiet as star center Kyle Jorgensen walked to the free-throw line. Those in the student section collectively rose, put their arms up and fluttered their fingers in the air.

Jorgensen's first attempt went in; 66-64 Washburn. The second bounced off the rim and into the hands of Breck guard Daniel Freitag.

Freitag launched it from half-court. The Washburn reserves moved to the edges of their seats, and coach Myles Shepherd could do nothing but watch. The shot missed, and cheers shattered the home crowd's silence.

The students stormed the court. Breck had arrived undefeated Saturday but now was just another marker in Minneapolis Washburn's best boys basketball season in a dozen years.

The Millers, ranked sixth in Class 4A, followed that with an 85-67 victory Wednesday over Minneapolis North. Washburn, already the Minneapolis City Conference champion at 12-0 in league play, is 21-2, its best record since the school's trip to the state tournament in 2012. The Millers finished second that year and haven't been back to state since.

Shepherd played for that 2011-12 Washburn team and couldn't help but draw parallels.

"I see a lot of similarities in how we're winning games," Shepherd said. "Back then, when we had a bad shooting game, it didn't matter. We'd hold a team under 50 points, and it's the same thing here."

Built on unselfish play

Shepherd, in his second season at Washburn, said the key to this year's success is the team's collective commitment to defense and unselfish play. In the 6-foot-9 Jorgensen, he found the epitome of this philosophy — an NCAA Division I recruit willing to sacrifice his ego for the betterment of the team.

"Kyle could average 50 points if he wanted," Shepherd said. "He passes open shots, because he truly enjoys seeing someone else score. And that's contagious."

Jorgensen, averaging 22.5 points per game and committed to Colorado State for college, has played four seasons on the varsity and has seen the team's culture change. He described his time on the varsity, which included coaching changes and a 13-15 record last season, as "a roller coaster."

"A lot of the teams we lost to last year, we played again this year," Jorgensen said. "They saw us last year when we were bad, but now this year we're much better and we want to show them how unselfish we are and how much we trust everybody."

Senior Blake Bergren also rode out that 15-loss season and learned from it. He's an appreciative team captain.

"I definitely gained a lot of confidence throughout the years, and I give a lot of credit to the coaching staff and my teammates, to everyone who has put a lot of trust in me," Bergren said. "That helped me evolve into this role on the team of being the second guy behind Kyle."

Bergren stands third on the team in scoring at 9.8 points per game, just behind Cooper Carlson's 10. 7.

The postseason

The playoffs are on the horizon, and Shepherd knows the Millers have more to achieve.

Washburn's time away from the state tournament mostly coincides with its move to Class 4A, the largest class. The Millers are in a section with powers Wayzata and Hopkins.

"I just want the state to know that, like, we're a legit team," Shepherd said. "Yeah, we were legit at 3A. But ever since 4A, about 2014-15, we just haven't made much noise."

Shepherd said the first goal is to earn a top-four seed and host a section playoff game. In the meantime, he is also giving a healthy amount of attention to the longevity of the program, taking steps that will make Washburn a perennial contender.

He is always pursuing respect for the Millers.

"If [Breck was] one of the top teams, regardless of class, and we beat them, where you gonna put us?" Shepherd rhetorically asked.

"I'm ready for us to get some love. We're more than just another city school. I want the same love that everyone else gets. … Whatever, we'll just keep doing what we do."

Theo Franz is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for Star Tribune.