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Connor Downes: Downes shoots team to title

Rosemount senior Connor Downes recently tuned into a nightly basketball broadcast on TNT.

Downes knew the story about his Jr. Rolling Timberwolves wheelchair basketball team winning the national championship was getting national attention and was going to be mentioned on the broadcast by the likes of legendary basketball player Charles Barkley.

Even Downes didn't know how much of the story was going to be covered.

"We knew a story about nationals was going to be on there, but I had no idea what they were going to show," Downes said. "I saw them talk about how it was coming up next, and they showed a little video of the play. I freaked out. I called (friend and teammate) Ben Kenyon and woke him up."

The video shown was of Downes.

It was likely an easy selection for the TNT crew.

Downes knocked down the game-winning shot with just four seconds left in the championship game, giving the Jr. Rolling Timberwolves their second straight national title.

The team, made up of Minnesota high school players, beat a team from San Diego 51-50 in the finals, finishing the season 24-2.

Downes is one of the team's tri-captains. He was named the player of the game in the finals, and was a second-team all-tournament selection.

"We brought back four of our five starters and our three seniors had a lot of experience," coach Mike Bauler said. "Going in there, we thought we would be in the championship game. It was a tough battle, but Connor hit the big shot.

"He is such a great kid, amazing student, and a great player."

But early on, Downes wasn't really interested in playing for the Jr. Rolling Timberwolves.

Even though his brother, Brendan, was a standout on the team, Connor was slow to come around.

Now, Connor Downes can hardly imagine what life would be like without the team.

"I enjoy it quite a lot," Connor said. "It gives me another aspect of responsibility and accomplishment.

"Coach wanted me to play during the same time my brother played. I was just never really interested until he left. That's about when I became interested."

Brendan went on to earn a scholarship and is now playing wheelchair basketball at the University of Arizona.

Now that Connor has come around, he is making his own legacy. He also signed last week to play collegiately. He has earned a scholarship to play at the University of Missouri. He plans to study international business or political science.

Downes has developed into one of the top post players in wheelchair basketball.

"I think it's his work ethic in practice, outside of practice," Bauler said. "He has done a lot of conditioning, weight lifting. He's in great shape. He's so consistent, and he has confidence to do a lot of things."

The experiences gained from his time with the Jr. Rolling Timberwolves are not lost on Downes.

"I think about how a lot of people would think, because of a disability, it's a disadvantage, where that's simply not true," Downes said. "Yeah, if I didn't have a disability, I would get to do some other things, but I have also been able to do more things. I have traveled around the country. Others like my brother have traveled around the world.

"The amazing opportunities I've had are beyond comparison to what I might have been able to do in another high school sport. Wheelchair basketball is still small, but it's big enough to be recognized by schools like Arizona, Illinois and Missouri. If it wasn't for basketball, I wouldn't have that."

While Connor never got to play with his brother, and admits his interest didn't pique until after his brother was gone, it has nothing to do with any sibling rivalry.

In fact, Connor gives a lot of credit to his brother.

"He's helped me a lot with basketball and just maturing," Connor said. "He is a person I really look up to. I aspire to be like him."

After appearing on national television, Connor Downes is likely inspiring others.