Kelly: Lakeville North now a basketball school

Set to compete in their third state title game in five years on Saturday, the Panthers have turned Lakeville North into a school known for its basketball


Sue Nelson

Oxton coaches the Panthers during a timeout in the regular season

Move over football and hockey—Lakeville North is now a basketball school.

After ending Osseo’s perfect season in the state semifinals, the Panthers are headed to the state title game for the third time in five years. Win or lose, it will mark the Panthers’ fourth top-four finish in a five year period.

This continued success has programs across the state viewing the Lakeville North boys’ basketball program as a model of consistency.

“You look at a program like Lakeville North that has been here five years in a row, that is your goal,” said Maple Grove coach Nick Schroeder following his game vs the Panthers in the quarterfinals. “Their guys were comfortable being here.”

Not only are the Panthers known for their consistency in the win-loss column, their consistent mentality is also noted among other programs.

“They just have a tenacity, and that is a trademark of Oxton’s program,” Osseo coach Tim Theisen said. “Lakeville North is solid, everyone of those players.”

The Panthers have not always been this way. When Lakeville North coach John Oxton took over in 1990, basketball was an afterthought and football was king.

“When I got to Lakeville, it was a flat out a football town,” he said earlier in the season. “(No other teams) had anything going.”

Although the football program has also made five consecutive state trips, it has only made one state title game appearance and has not had the same consistency at the top as the boys’ basketball team has.

The success of the Panther boys’ basketball team has also been overshadowed by the overall success of many Lakeville North programs in recent years, specifically the boys’ hockey team.

The Panther boys’ hockey team’s 31-0 state championship season in 2015 following a 2014 state title game appearance certainly put Lakeville North hockey on the map.

But Oxton’s squad was on the map before the hockey team and continues to stay on the map while the hockey team’s state tournament appearance streak ended at three—the Panthers fell in the 2016 section 1AA final.

Oxton won’t proclaim Lakeville North a basketball school, but those close to him are not afraid to do so.

“With the success we’ve had with him at the helm, we are a basketball school,” Lakeville North assistant Mark Haddorff said earlier in the season. “People know us for a lot of things as a good athletics school, but basketball is right up there.”

Whether the Panthers win with dominance from one player—J.P. Macura in 2014—or a balanced offense—the Panthers in 2016—they always find themselves playing into mid-March.

But some fans in the basketball community still haven’t taken notice.

Say dynasty and Class 4A Minnesota prep basketball, and names such as Hopkins and Apple Valley often come to mind. And rightfully so. The Eagles and Royals have combined to win five of the last seven state titles in Class 4A .

Oxton, however, said he doesn’t mind the Panthers are not talked about as much.

“We fly under the radar,” he said.

Lakeville North’s consistency is bound to add the Panthers to the Hopkins, Apple Valley discussion, though.

And this was Oxton’s goal from when he came to Lakeville. In the 1990-1991 Lakeville High School yearbook, he said he hoped to make Lakeville a basketball school.

With a second state championship at Lakeville North in his grasp, Oxton has done just that.