Practice ceased for a moment at Washburn High School as Chase Coley stood just outside the three-point line looking up at the rim with wide eyes.
"Dunk it Chase," said one of her teammates.
Her dad and Washburn head coach Tylor Coley stood on the baseline just to Chase's left. He smiled as his daughter calmly bounced the ball twice on the floor and readied herself for the latest challenge set before her.
Basketball has been like breathing for the Coley family. Tylor was born and raised in Indiana, and has basketball running through his veins. His wife Kelli Jo and daughters Chase and Kendall all share in his love of the game. As the head girls' basketball coach at Washburn, there wasn't a day that went by where basketball didn't come up in the conversation.
It was November 3rd, 2010 and the day began in the Coley household just as it had every other day. It was a special day. It was Kendall's 8th birthday and was certain to be a day of celebration filled with cake, ice-cream and family. For the Coley family those things that are taken for granted once a year didn't happen. Kelli Jo died tragically of sudden cardiac arrest in the families Eagan home. The day "cast a cloud over the family for several months" according to Tylor.
"When Kelli Jo was here, I was in the gym, I was coaching, I was training, and I was working in a school that demanded long hours. I wasn't around as much as I could be," said Tylor. "Dad was a pretty one dimensional guy."
The three persevered through months of grieving. Tylor took a brief leave of absence from coaching but returned to the bench after the holiday break in 2010.
"We were forced to always be around each other because Kendall couldn't go home after school" said Chase. "We were always here together, it got late, we got frustrated with each other but it kept us together."
Despite losing her mom, Chase maintained a 3.6 grade point average. There were long days and even longer nights for a family that missed their rock. The Washburn community and basketball helped them through it, but the girls needed more.
"One day Chase said, "all we talk about is basketball. So now I try to make it a point that we don't talk basketball that much," said Tylor "Lately, she's bringing basketball questions to the dinner table."
When you think Washburn basketball, you immediately think of the boys program and their recent success. The Coley's are changing all of that. Tylor took over the program in 2009 and since has come into its own following years of being on the wrong end of losses.
Chase first played varsity minutes her freshman year, only weeks following the loss of her mother. She averaged 10 points per game her freshman season. During her sophomore season last year, the Millers advanced to the section championship game only to fall to Minnehaha Academy. This year, the Coley's hope to take the next step and have the Millers into the state tournament. The team is undefeated at 6-0 in conference play and looks to win its first conference crown since 1985.
"A lot of team work, hustle and working hard in practice," said Chase about the rise of the program. "We're going to be that high point the next couple of years. The group that people look up to."
At 6"3, Chase is going to play basketball at the next level. She has received college offers as a junior, but is being patient and waiting for the school she wants to come knocking at her door.
"I've gotten a couple of offers. Not from the school that I want to go to," said Chase. "I like all of the schools that are recruiting me, but I've kind of had a school in mind and of they give me an offer that will put me at ease a little more but I know I like the Big 10 and stuff and the Big East is cool. Sticking in the Midwest, I don't want to go too far."
On the court, her game has blossomed. She scored her 1,000th career point earlier this season and is averaging 22 points and 17 rebounds for the Millers who are undefeated in Minneapolis City Conference play and look to do something the program hasn't done since 1985. Earlier this season against Becker she scored 32 points pulled down 18 rebounds blocked an amazing 21 shots dished three assists and had seven steals. Those numbers are a week or two worth for most post players, Chase did that in one game.
Kendall is now a fourth grader with hoop dreams of her own. Led by her dad, she plays on the Urban Stars fifth grade team and according to her coach "there isn't a shot she doesn't like".
"Kendall is a very resilient girl," said Tylor. "But there isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't mention something her mom did. Those days she gets sad and wants to cry, it's okay."
Like Chase, Kendall is constantly in the gym and watching and learning from their dad and coach.
"We are like 18-3," said Kendall. "Our three losses came to fifth grade B teams."
Tylor has been involved with the Urban Stars program at almost every level and has given girls across the city the opportunity to compete and succeed. He is a great coach, but more importantly he is a great dad.
"To see them now, both excelling. Kendall's playing on a team, I'm coaching her on Saturday mornings for Urban Stars," said Tylor. "I'm so proud of the kids."
Chase took two long strides toward the 10 foot hoop and took off. She seemed to hang in mid-air for what seemed to be minutes. She cradled the regulation girls ball in her right hand preparing to send a thunderous dunk through the bright orange cylinder. As she approached the rim Chase came up just short as the ball hit the rim and bounced to the floor. Her dad and coach smiled and shook his head almost as if to say "look at how far you've come".
Compared to what she has gone through, dunking a basketball seems so small and so simple. Yet for the Coley family, the game of basketball is everything and has bonded them together forever.