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After 50 years De Smet’s reign still impresses

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     It has been 50 years since De Smet was putting the final touch on a basketball masterpiece. Fans in South Dakota still marvel at the proficiency and precision that was displayed by the Bulldogs during a three-season span ending in 1971.

     The championship game of the State Class B Tournament in 1969 ranks among the most memorable in history. Onida protected its undefeated record by using Tom Fox’s 33 points to hold off the Bulldogs 93-90. De Smet was led by Randy Jencks with 30 points. A capacity crowd at the Sioux Falls Arena witnessed a steady procession to the free throw line. Jencks converted 20 of 25 attempts as the Bulldogs went 36-for-51 on free throws. Onida shot 39, making 29.

     After that 22-4 season the Bulldogs of Coach Larry Luitjens had loftier goals. Returning to the championship game in 1970, De Smet capped a 25-1 record by defeating Stickney 76-39 for the first of two consecutive titles. Jencks was a senior in 1971 and missed much of the season with a knee injury. His return in the postseason helped spark De Smet to another championship. The Bulldogs beat Lennox 53-49 in the finals to go 25-2 and settle their three-year mark at 72-7.

     Testimony to De Smet’s talent and depth was the fact that the Bulldogs placing a different player on the all-state first team during each of those three seasons: Tom Hein in 1969, Jencks in 1970 and Terry Long in 1971. Luitjens, the subject of a new book authored by Bob Parsons, went on to coach at Custer and finish his career with a 748-305 record.

NCC shootout was longtime holiday tradition

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     The North Central Conference Holiday Tournament was a popular tradition that for 25 years put some of the country’s finest NCAA Division II basketball competition on display before crowds at the Sioux Falls Arena.

     Held annually between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the inaugural event was staged Dec. 28-30, 1965. A ticket good for all 12 games cost $5. Fans in attendance saw Sisseton product Jack Theeler (at right in USD photo) become the first of several Most Valuable Players who had prepped at South Dakota high schools.

     Theeler’s late-game basket, part of a 26-point performance, lifted South Dakota past South Dakota State 77-75 in the quarterfinals. The 6-foot-4 forward then had 27 points, including four free throws in the final seconds, as the Coyotes beat North Dakota State 68-65 in the semifinals. The losing Bison were coached by Doug Cowman, who had guided Canistota to the Class B state championship in 1958.

     North Dakota, rated No. 4 nationally, stopped USD in the finals 83-64. Phil Jackson was the Sioux star before moving on to NBA fame as a player and coach. But it was Theeler who led the tourney in scoring with 69 points and was MVP.

     Six other former South Dakota preps later earned MVP honors: John Thomas (Alexandria) of SDSU in 1967, Chuck Iverson (Vermillion) of USD in 1972, Ron Wiblemo (Mitchell) of SDSU in 1973, Steve Brown (Hamlin) of SDSU in 1977, Mark Tetzlaff (Hamlin) of SDSU in 1982 and Pat Freidel (Armour) of Augustana in 1988.

     The final tournament was held in 1989. SDSU finished as the leader with five championships. The Jackrabbits won the event in 1968, 1969, 1973, 1977 and 1979. Augustana followed with four titles, winning in 1974, 1980, 1984 and 1987. UND, NDSU and Nebraska-Omaha were next with three championships apiece.

Fosness dies at age 85 after a life well lived

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     Gordon Fosness graduated from Presho High School in 1953 and went on to make an indelible mark on South Dakota basketball as a player and coach, then later as an advocate. He was a man of faith who served as a spiritual advisor to many. Fosness died Dec. 15 in Sioux Falls. He was 85.

     At the time of his Dakota Wesleyan University graduation, Fosness was the Tigers’ career scoring leader. He totaled 1,805 points with a career average of 23.4 points per game. Fosness was chosen all-South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference during each of his four seasons. He was then selected by the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1957 NBA Draft.

     Fosness (shown addressing his players during a timeout in the DWU photo at left) coached at Cavour and Gregory before returning to Wesleyan in 1961. He guided the Tigers for 22 seasons before retiring in 1983. Fosness’ teams won 10 SDIC championships. His career record, in an era when teams played far fewer games than they do today, was 351-195.

     After leaving coaching Fosness accepted the position of Director of Development at Wesleyan. Then from 1988-2000 he was the state director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Fosness was a member of several halls of fame, including the NAIA Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011 and has served on the organization’s board of directors.

Colleges feature former South Dakota preps

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     With the new basketball season tipping off in a time of uncertainty, which high schools in the state have produced the most players who are currently listed on varsity rosters of the colleges in South Dakota?

     Among the men, Sioux Falls O’Gorman leads with five. Dell Rapids, Harrisburg and Sioux Valley have three each. Knights in action are the Cartwright brothers, Matt at Augustana University and Jack at the University of Sioux Falls, as well as Akoi Akoi at Augustana, Luke Ronsiek at Mount Marty University and Cole Bruhn at Dakota State University.

     Sioux Falls Lincoln has six graduates on women’s teams: Morgan Hansen at the University of South Dakota, Izzy Van Veldhuizen at Augustana, Anna Brecht at USF, Lexi Hochstein at MMU and Sydnaya Dunn and Mya Wilson both at Dakota Wesleyan University. Following the Patriots with three each are Brandon Valley, Hamlin, Harrisburg and Lennox.

     There are 53 men who are former prep players in South Dakota and are now on in-state college rosters. They represent 34 different high schools across the state. Among the women, there are 70 players from 45 high schools.

Iverson, Renowned player and coach, dies at 90

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     Jim Iverson, among the most celebrated figures in South Dakota basketball history, died Oct. 26 in Fort Wayne, Ind. He was 90. Iverson was a star player at Platte High School and Kansas State, and a championship coach at South Dakota State. He was a charter member of the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

     After helping Platte to four Class B state tournaments before graduating in 1948, Iverson was a 5-foot-11 guard at Kansas State when the Wildcats lost to Kentucky 68-58 in the national championship game in 1951. The following season, as a senior, he averaged 12.9 points per game and captained Kansas State to a 19-5 record.

     Iverson was chosen by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 1952 NBA Draft. But after fulfilling his military obligation he entered coaching. SDSU finished 22-5 and won the NCAA College Division championship under Iverson in 1963. His career record as coach of the Jackrabbits was 142-65. Iverson guided SDSU to championships in the North Central Conference during the 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1963 seasons.

     Iverson later had a career in banking. He was a longtime resident of Sioux Falls before moving to Fort Wayne.

Recordings will provide a link to yesteryear

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      Memories of the past are ingrained in the minds of men and women who through the years have been part of the South Dakota basketball experience. Those memories are treasures that should be preserved. A commitment to that ideal is the motivation behind a new project which is being undertaken by the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

     Executive director Dave Wagner (right) is working to create an oral history of South Dakota prep basketball. He will record interviews across the state which will eventually be compiled into an archive collection. Wagner’s intention is to interact with people from different backgrounds who have contributed to the sport in various ways  — as players, coaches, officials, journalists and fans — and allow them to tell their stories in their own words.

     “We believe it is important to document the experiences of these basketball pioneers to ensure that the memories they have to share are not lost forever,” says Wagner. “These people have done so much to help our sport achieve the popularity that it commands today. They should never be forgotten.”

     Their stories will serve as permanent evidence of what basketball has meant to generations of South Dakotans. Copies of the recordings will be available for public listening in the Hall of Fame room 2110 at the Sanford Pentagon.

Pandemic plagued S.D. and the world in 1918

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     A little more than 100 years ago the 1918 influenza pandemic took a tragic toll. Often referred to as the Spanish flu, its deadly impact was felt across the globe. In the United States alone an estimated 675,000 lives were lost.

     The South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame has published its 2020 Fall Newsletter. Featured is a comprehensive look at how our state coped during the 1918 pandemic and of South Dakota’s effort to maintain some degree of normalcy by forging ahead with prep basketball and the single-class state tournament.

     Also in the newsletter is a profile of a proud program that battled its way to the threshold of South Dakota basketball glory only to endure far more than a fair share of heartbreaks. Another story in the newsletter remembers an eminent personality whose venerable handprint was visible on our state tournaments for many years.

     The 13th edition of the biannual newsletter was mailed free on Nov. 11 to the more than 1,200 people on our mailing list. They reside in 41 states. All past editions can be accessed in the Newsletter Archives section of this website.

Basketball trailblazer Thune dies at age 100

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     One of South Dakota’s most respected and admired basketball trailblazers, Harold Thune, died Aug. 15, 2020. He had reached the age of 100.

     Thune was a 1937 graduate of Murdo High School. As a senior he led the Coyotes to the school’s first-ever State Class B Tournament. Murdo took second place. The Coyotes defeated Bridgewater and Redfield before falling in the championship game to Doland 32-27. Thune was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

     A member of the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame’s inaugural Class of 2010, he was also inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame.

     During his collegiate career Thune was a standout in the Big Ten Conference at the University of Minnesota. He then served as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot in World War II.

     Thune, the father of U.S. Senator John Thune, spent many years in his hometown of Murdo as a businessman and educator. He recently resided in Central City, Neb.

Names of Wood, Cobb still resonate in S.D.

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     During the early stages of high school athletics in South Dakota, two visionary coaches, one in East River and the other in West River, emerged as examples of how to build and sustain premier programs.

     Howard Wood was born in Canada and graduated from Potsdam Normal College (N.Y.). He arrived at Sioux Falls Washington in 1908. Wood coached the Warriors to four state basketball championships and had a career record of 430-141. In football his teams won 17 state titles and went 246-74-16. In track Wood guided SFW to 16 state championships.

     Euclid Cobb was born in Texas and earned a degree from Monmouth College (Ill.). He took over as coach at what would become Rapid City Central in 1920. Cobb’s team won a state basketball title in 1942. In football he had a career record of 144-43-13 while posting seven undefeated seasons: 1922, 1923, 1925, 1927, 1931, 1932 and 1943.

     Wood spent 39 years at Washington and died in 1949. A prominent Sioux Falls stadium, Howard Wood Field, was named in his memory. Cobb died in 1986. The school he served for 41 years gave him the ultimate compliment when in 1934 it used his surname to change its mascot from the Tigers. Since then Central’s teams have been the Cobblers.

Krogman, Young headline 2,000-point clubs

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     Don Jacobsen graduated from Lake Norden High School in 1957 after scoring 2,825 points for the Bluejays. That total reigned as the South Dakota boys career record for 50 years.

     Until Dec. 20, 2007. That night White River star Louie Krogman moved past Jacobsen in a Lakota Nation Invitational game at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City.

     Krogman (pictured at left in a University of South Dakota photo during his college career) concluded his White River prep career in 2008 with 3,521 points. He leads the list of 42 documented boys who have surpassed the 2,000-point plateau in state history. Jill Young (pictured at right) of Mitchell Christian graduated in 2007 with 3,317 points and leads the 28 girls in the state who have reached 2,000. Young later played at South Dakota State University. Click on ‘Records’ at the top of this website to see both complete lists.

     The first player to reach 2,000 points in South Dakota was Stanton Uhlir in 1951. He notched 2,023 for Kadoka. Nine more boys players surpassed the milestone before the decade of the 1950s came to an end: Jacobsen, Milt Sorenson, Bob Swanhorst, LaMoine Torgerson, Jerry Wingen, Dale Hall, Terry Slattery, Cliff Albee and Phil Miedema. Among girls in the state Robin Anderson of Clear Lake was the first to surpass 2,000. She totaled 2,332 points before graduating in 1980.