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Is Independent Basketball KILLING West-River hoops
May 13, 2017

Author's Note - Have been thinking about writing this piece since the end of boys basketball season, but, didn't know how to do it without offending a large faction of people that spend a ton of time and money hauling their kids to independent basketball tournaments miles and miles and miles from home. That said, after spending some time with Allen Bertram at the Pentagon, seeing track kids across the state thriving and getting faster and stronger I serioiusly have to question the state of basketball in west river and how the chasm between east and west is growing by the minute. 


That said, the only goal of authoring this piece is to perhaps have people take a look at how we're doing things out west and perhaps look at different options to improve the good work that's already being done. 


Is Independent basketball killing WEST-RIVER hoops

By Rich Winter

Was strolling through the Pentagon visiting with former Chamberlain coach and now Director of Basketball Operations (I think) at the Pentagon, Allan Bertram. It truly was an awesome experience and as we walked and talked, I took in some massive South Dakota hoops history. I was literally a kid in a candy store and as I gawked at every little piece of everything, Bertram patiently took the time to explain a little bit of everything.


(The Native American historical look at the old Catholic School basketball teams was sooooooo AWESOME, I highly suggest people go take a tour). 


As we walked around the practice courts, Bertram was kind of ramdomly talking about the kinds of drills they do and he off-handedly mentioned that if a coach desired, a kid could be pulled from drills and worked out for an entire hour with one-on-one instruction.


My mind raced ahead to what that would look like.


Kid struggling with something specific and a coach takes him/her aside and spends an hour talking about the specifics of what to work on, doing it repeatedly and turning a weakness into a strength.


An hour, for one tiny little thing, hmmmmm?


"We bring people in and sit and talk about their strengths and weaknesses and what they need to do to get where they want to go," Bertram offered.


"And they don't get butt-hurt," I asked?


Alright, so here is this shiny basketball ACADEMY over in Sioux Falls. I fully understand the economic situations of a lot of schools out west and understand that not everyone can hop on over to Sioux Falls or jump in a car and drive to Minneapolis for a weekend tournament. 


But, the type of training the Pentagon is offering is starting to resonate through east-river basketball, those closest to this terrific facility.


Take the recently completed Class A state tournament.

1st - Tea Area (Sioux Falls)

2nd - Madison - North of Sioux Falls

3rd - Tri-Valley - Close to Sioux Falls

4th - Sioux Falls Christian - Sioux Falls

5th - Dakota Valley - Close to Sioux Falls

6th - St. Thomas More - West River

7th - Chamberlain - 2 hours to Sioux Falls with two players heading to college both with Pentagon Roots

8th - Mount Vernon/Plankinton


Six of those schools are within a stones-throw of Sioux Falls. Only St. Thomas More from west river made the dance. 


Had my feathers ruffled a bit when the SDHSAA rearranged the basketball format into the Sweet-16. For me, I've always liked to see geographical representation in the tournament, but, the goal of the move was to get the eight best teams into the tournament. 


I can't help but think a little bit about the Mt. Vernon/Plankinton squad as I pen this piece. Really paid attention to that Pine Ridge vs. MVP game, in Winner at the Sweet-16. I'd seen MVP on LiveTicket.tv before and I'd read press-clippings and seen what kind of tear they were on, but, I was really, REALLY rooting for Pine Ridge in that game. So wanted the Thorpes in the dance, if nothing else, to represent Region 7 for what I think a lot of us feel is one hell of a basketball region. 


Pine Ridge played a hell of a game and damn near pulled it off. While I was rooting for Pine Ridge, I was paying attention to the MVP kis scrap and hustle. In particular I wondered who this Devin Rihanek kid was who went toe-to-toe with Corey Brown even though he was two inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter. 


Noticed Rihanek at the recently completed Howard Wood Dakota Relays running the 800 anchor on the Titans Medley relay that finished 4th. Noticed a bunch of kids from the basketball team lighting it up at Howard Wood


Couple days later, Rihanek ran a 2:01 half at a track meet on his home turf. 


MVP has athletes qualified in every relay....All kids that played basketball, all going out for track and all kicking some serious butt and getting stronger.


Meanwhile, Pine Ridge barely has enough kids to field a relay let alone run a competitive one at state?


Why is that?


Why don't people go out for track?


"Oh, I'm going to work on my basketball game," is the usual reply when asked why someone doesn't go out for track.


Ok, so why am I seeing you parked at Dairy Queen and not in the gym?


Why does that lifting promise you made turn into twice a week for 20 minutes where ya don't even bother to break a sweat.


Seriously, take a look at the video attached with this piece and look at what those kids are doing.


They're training!

They're sweating!

They're getting tuffer....

They're working on individual aspects of their game!


And what do we do in west river....We toss out a ball and let the kids play!


Here is where it gets tricky for me. I don't want to sound like an ass here because there are some really great independent tournaments, all, that have some merit to them. 


But, if the proven method of improvement is hard-core training, drilling at a high-level with the reward of playing in a tournament after thoroughly working on one's game then....


How in the hell are kids supposed to get better when all they do is play?


No really...


Now, I can't say that I attend a lot of independent tournaments so I can't speak unequivocally about their total merits, but, I've heard from plenty of coaches, including Bertram himself who said, "Independent tournaments just reinforce bad habits."


There is a difference between making a mistake in drills and having your coach pull you aside for an hour to work on something and making a mistake at an independent tournament and have the coach yell, "Shake it off."


"When a kid is faster and stronger than another kid from the get-go, you've already got a direct advantage," Bertram said in the video enclosed with this piece. 


Is there a problem with how we conduct our baketball operations out west?


What's the solution?


Well, that's the million dollar question?


As track winds down and summer approaches, how are we going to give the west river kids the same type of experience the east river kids are getting?


Is the whole team going to be lifting together this summer?

Will kids actually add running, lifting and stretching to their daily routine knowing that's what they need to do to embrace GREAT, or, are we going to show up in August and work our way into shape in the fall sport so we can be ready for basketball.


How many camps are kids going to?

How many camps is Lower Brule hosting and can kids from St. Francis come?


While the coaches at the Pentagon basketball academy have some glossy credentials behind their names, I've seen SEVERAL in my own community that run Pentagon like drills. I've seen Ted Standing Soldier's camps run well. I personally think their are great baasketball minds all over the western part of the state that could lend wisdom and tuffness to every program. 


How do we add drilling and direction to our summer programs?

How do we get the gym open on a daily basis?

How do we make sure the coach is hired before the summer so they can maximize camp and team-camp opportunities?


How does Region 7A get two teams into the state tournament instead of none?


As I wrap things up here, I'd like to say the intention of the words authored aren't to criticize or make a single person feel bad....


But, the gap is widening and that curve of improvement the east is showing, ain't going away.


What are WE going to do about it?

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