The Minnesota State High School League has rejected a request made on the behalf of two top Minnesota high school basketball teams to play in the Geico High School National Championships in April.
The Minnehaha Academy boys' team and the Hopkins girls' team were the subject of a request by Rashid Ghazi, a partner in Chicago-based Paragon Marketing Group, which administers the nationally televised tournament, asking that the teams be available to play.
Paragon made its request in a Jan. 30 e-mail to the league's executive director, Erich Martens, saying it "had interest from both'' teams seeking ''to participate in the postseason event if they qualify for selection," Ghazi's original e-mail said.
Minnehaha Academy is 17-2, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A in the state and No. 8 in the nation according to the MaxPreps.
The Redhawks, who defeated national power Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) in early January at a packed Target Center, have drawn national attention with two highly regarded recruits. Senior guard Jalen Suggs and 7-foot junior power forward Chet Holmgren head up a deep and talented roster that also includes potential Division I players in junior guard Hercy Miller and sophomore forward Prince Aligbe.
Defending Class 4A girls' champion Hopkins is led by UConn signee Paige Bueckers, the top-rated senior in the country. The Royals are 21-0 and on pace to finish their second consecutive season without a loss.
Both teams were being sought to play in the national tournament assuming they won their respective high school state championships.
Martens replied via e-mail that the tournament, which invites eight boys' and four girls' teams to New York to play for a national title, violates high school league bylaws, primarily its rule disallowing teams to play outside of the defined high school basketball season.
"Providing an extended season for select teams would provide an unfair advantage to any teams that would be allowed and would set a precedent that many other teams and other sports would likely request," Martens said in a reply e-mail on Feb. 6.
Martens said Friday that most state high school governing bodies do not allow for teams to participate in such competitions.
"Our bylaws say that these competitions must be sanctioned by our league or another NFHS [National Federation of High Schools] sanctioning league in another state and be hosted by a representative high school or college program, and this doesn't meet that," he said. "More than 40 other [high school] leagues feel the same way."
The tournament, in its 12th year, invites four-year high schools and pays all team expenses, including travel, hotels, meals, accommodations and educational experiences. The event is televised by ESPN.
While the denial has been met with differing levels of acceptance from those involved with both teams, many were vexed by the league's rejection.
"This is a big deal," Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff said. "I've been coaching 35 years and never had an opportunity like this. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. … I don't understand why you wouldn't want to do everything you can to promote Minnesota basketball."
Rapper Master P, whose real name is Percy Miller, is the father of Hercy Miller, in his first season with the Redhawks.
"This is just high school basketball," Master P was quoted as saying on the TMZ.com website. "These kids should have the opportunity to go to other states and play and compete."
While other family members of Redhawks players also expressed frustration with the MSHSL's decision, school athletic director Josh Thurow went on Twitter on Thursday saying the school is looking to move on and put this issue in the past.
"We appreciate the consideration from Geico Nationals — but our goal is to finish in a 4th straight State Championship game!" the post said in part.