MINNEAPOLIS -- Late in the second half of a lopsided game with Litchfield in a Minnesota State Boys Basketball Class AA semifinal, Esko senior Mac McComber managed to draw a shooting foul and later make his second free-throw attempt.
When the ball went through the Target Center's net, he then managed to draw one of the loudest cheers of the night.
"I was just excited to have the opportunity to play at the Target Center," said McComber about competing in the Minnesota Timberwolves' professional arena last Friday. "I was hoping to make one and just glad I could knock one down for us."
That "us-first" attitude defined Esko's senior class. Along with McComber, classmates Bobby Wright and Ben Hanson have been team players throughout their careers, and ultimately led Esko back to State for the first time in 10 years.
Wright and Hanson averaged hardly a handful of points together all season, but the pair of defensive starters did the dirty work, according to longtime Esko Coach Mike Devney.
"I think I took 21 charges this season" said Wright, a center who drew three offensive fouls against Annandale in the team's final game Saturday. "My body felt it the next day, but I was OK with it. I just took some ibuprofen and threw some ice on it."
Hanson was heavily called upon to ice their opponent's best offensive threat, which the fleet-footed forward did. The state cross country star said his personal points were never his focus.
"Maybe we seniors didn't get all of the scoring, but it couldn't have been a better way to finish than with these guys," Hanson said proudly. "It couldn't have gone more perfect than how I got to end my career as an Esko basketball player."
Playing significantly less than his classmates, McComber, a reserve guard, has gone through a painful career. Dealing with hurting knees, aching ankles, a broken left fibula this past summer and right shoulder soreness since seventh grade -- including multiple trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester -- McComber has played basketball for Esko his entire life.
"It's been a rollercoaster ride," McComber said. "But I wouldn't change anything. This team has turned me into the person I am today. I wouldn't have traded this for anything."
In his 14th season coaching at Esko, nor would Devney.
"Ben, Bobby and Mac -- all three of them are tremendous kids," Devney said. "They knew we had some talented kids behind them, but accepted their roles. They made a lot of plays you don't see in the newspaper -- I'm so glad they stuck it out."
"We wouldn't have gotten to State if it wasn't for those three -- we wanted to play on for them," said Esko's Marc Peterson. And when [Mac] hit his free throw, it was kind of like a reward."
For all of Esko's selfless seniors.