Not everyone can be “the guy” on a sports team. But not everyone can take pride in that fact, either.
Jamestown High School senior Isaac Mimong knew time on the basketball court was going to be limited this season for a man of his skill set, and the all-conference tennis player didn’t care. Jamestown had a state championship to defend, and the Blue Jays needed athletes to sharpen each other in practice.
That’s where Mimong, and JHS athletes such as seniors Carson Kidd and Darynt Carroll, made the difference for the 21-4 Blue Jays. As silly as it may sound, a lot of pride goes into becoming the role players who aren’t getting their names typed into stories on a nightly basis.
Every good team has them.
“I just came to practice with an attitude that I was gonna do my best to get the rest of the team prepared for the game,” said Mimong. “Being together with all the guys and coming together as a team, I guess that’s where the enjoyment came for me.”
Mimong was where he had been all season last Friday, hard at work helping to execute scout team duties during a team shootaround at Fargo South High School. Jamestown was supposed to play West Fargo Sheyenne later that night in the Class A state tournament semifinals at Scheels Center in Fargo.
“We got to Fargo South and just started to shoot around and warm up,” Mimong recalled. “After a little bit coach (Jacoby Lloyd) brought us all together and had us go over how we would guard West Fargo Sheyenne.”
It was Jamestown’s last official team activity. The North Dakota High School Activities Association (NDHSAA) suspended the tournament and all activities later that day in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most likely ending the prep careers of JHS seniors Mimong, Kidd, Carroll, Max Anderson and Boden Skunberg.
“It was kinda just, like, really shocking to hear that there was a chance that we weren’t gonna be able to finish out our season the way we were wanting to,” Mimong said. “With all that was happening, it just kinda got taken away from us.”
An incredibly thrilling West Region tournament the week prior in Bismarck, where Jamestown went to overtime in all three games without an injured all-state Skunberg and won twice, had fully cemented the defending state champions, who were now most likely perceived as the underdog.
Jamestown dismantled Devils Lake and 6-foot-9 all-state standout Grant Nelson 71-54 in the Class A state quarterfinals. The tournament was down to Jamestown, Sheyenne, Bismarck High and Fargo Davies when human lives became more important than basketball.
“They were locked in and ready to play, so it was an emotional letdown for us,” said coach Lloyd. “I spoke to a lot of those coaches that were in that semifinal with us and we were all kinda feeling the exact same way, we just didn’t have the words to explain, or express, our feelings to our kids.”
In 106 years of high school boys basketball in North Dakota, a state champion has always been produced, according to records kept by the NDHSAA. Since 1914, the year in which World War I touched off in Europe, the string at either the state’s only or top level has never been broken, beginning with Fargo Central defeating Minot two years after the sinking of the RMS Titanic and most likely ending with Jamestown defeating Fargo Davies last winter.
A myriad of both national and global emergencies in the world’s rearview mirror, an invisible killer may have snapped the streak. Governor Doug Burgum announced Thursday that North Dakota K-12 in-school classes would remain canceled indefinitely.
“I think for a little while there we were still holding out hope that there was a possibility that we could play, and I think that’s how the kids were preparing as well,” Lloyd said. “Now I would feel as though there’d be some kind of risk factor trying to start it up. So I’d say realistically, no, we wouldn’t be able to play it.
“I know people have said on Twitter, ‘Play it in June.’ Well, we can’t.”
Lloyd said he feels for the seniors, and not just his. All of them.
“For putting in as much work as they have throughout their whole careers, and the amount of time their parents have dedicated to driving them to tournaments, to practices, to different games and for it to end the way it did? You feel for them,” Lloyd said. “But the bigger picture of things -- suspending and ultimately probably canceling the tournament -- hopefully helped keep people from getting sick.”
For seniors such as Mimong, Carroll and Kidd, they’ll probably never know if what they did behind the scenes would have been enough to win Jamestown an eighth state championship in boys basketball.
“A lot of their pride came directly from practice and preparing the other players to play,” Lloyd said. “They took joy out of seeing our team succeed, and our players succeed, so for them to not see that plan be able to play out and see how our guys handled it, it’s hard for them.”
A year with no champion, certainly, will be hard on everybody.
“I think I’ve seen a lot of headlines on what could have been and, yeah, you never know,” Lloyd said. “Everybody that participated -- boys and girls -- will be remembered as the season that never finished.”
“It’ll be different, that’s for sure,” Mimong concluded. “I felt that we could’ve had another chance to do it again.”