Charlie and Nick Katona were not the first brothers to play varsity basketball together at Shakopee, but as far as I know, they are the first Shakopee brothers who will play at the college level together. Charlie played his freshman season at the University of Minnesota Duluth last year, and in 2022, his younger brother Nick will join the team too.

“I chose UMD mainly because of the culture they have up there,” Charlie told me. “The coaching staff is very relatable to the players. You can joke around with them, yet they are very serious about playing basketball. They make playing super enjoyable. They made the team feel like another family for me.”

Nick is heading into his senior year at Shakopee High School where he’ll be a wide receiver on the football team and play on the basketball team.

“The coaches are the main reason I want to go to UMD,” Nick said. “They really do seem a like a second family. The first day that colleges were able to contact me about playing, the UMD coaches called me right away, that day, and asked, ‘How would you feel if we made you an offer?’ I knew they had made me a first priority.”

The brothers have a lot in common. They both played on the Minnesota Fury AAU Club team, were leaders on their high school teams after making varsity as freshmen, both stand 6 feet, 7 inches tall, and both work as groundskeepers at Stonebrook Golf Club. They’re ultra-competitive and looking forward to playing together in college.

“During my sophomore season, Charlie and I bonded a lot during high school by playing together on the same team,” Nick said. “To have that opportunity to play together again in college is something I’m excited about.”

Charlie agrees. “I feel awesome about him coming to Duluth, and I’m excited to play with him again,” he said. “We practice all the time together. We know what each other is going to do, so we can react and help each other.”

During his freshman college season, Charlie started every game, shooting an impressive 46.2% from the field and averaging 13.6 points per game. During his final three weekend series, his game average jumped to 18.6 points.

“I knew I had a good chance of being able to play and work my way up to significant time when I committed to the team,” he said. “I was hoping for minutes. I wanted the chance to earn playing time. I wanted to know that if I worked hard and practiced, I could earn it.”

Nick, who’s known as a scrappy player who led his team in charges taken the last two years, was also draw to UMD because of the chance to play as a freshman. He’s attended some UMD games, met current players, and played on-court with them during open gym.

“One of my main questions when I first talked to the coaches was if I would be able to play my first year, and the coach said he definitely sees me making an impact right away,” Nick said. “I want the chance to earn playing time. I’m not expecting to start, especially with such a young team, but I do expect to contribute.”

During Charlie’s senior year in high school, where he set the school rebounding record and broke the 1,500 mark for points, UMD coaches called weekly and attended his games and even some practices. Nick has been traveling frequently this summer for basketball. He was in Alabama a few days before I talked to him, and UMD coaches were in attendance. His schedule also includes games in Indianapolis and South Dakota.

“With AAU, you’re playing against some of the best players in the country,” Charlie said. “It’s a totally different experience than high school, and it helped Nick and me excel.”

He said the biggest surprise at transitioning from high school to college was the physicality of play. “It’s a lot more physical,” he said. “You’re playing against men now, and you have to hold your own. These guys are much faster and much better shooters.”

Over the last year, he’s put in more time in the weight room, and it shows. He’s gained about 10 pounds of muscle. Charlie says he’s gotten stronger, faster, can jump higher, and has a more explosive first step.

The UMD team plays games abroad every four years. They’re due for the next trip in two years, so the brothers will play overseas together, which will probably be in Spain, Greece, or Italy. Charlie and Nick credit basketball for the positive impact it has on their lives.

“It’s kind of my life. I’ve never not played basketball,” Charlie said. “It’s one thing I look forward to everyday. I can forget everything else when I play. And I know if I work hard, I can see it pay off in the long run.”

Nick feels the same away. “It’s always been important for me. I have ADHD, so basketball really helps me. It’s what helped me get through the COVID shutdown. It’s almost humbling losing track of time when I’m on the court. Sometimes I go out at 5, and the next thing I know, it’s 8:30. I’m a competitor in everything, even in school. If I get a B, I want to get it to an A. Basketball lets me be a competitor.”

Charlie is majoring in finance. Nick plans to focus on some type of engineering, maybe medical engineering to create prosthetics. Their ultimate goal is to play professionally.

“That’s my number one goal,” Nick said. “I want to excel in college and get the chance to play in the pros.”

“After college, I would like to play here or overseas,” Charlie said. “I do want to play at the next level.”

Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.