What A Way To Go

As a Laker fan, Kobe Bryant was never my favorite player.

I grew up in the 1980s watching “Showtime.” As an inside player, I gravitated toward Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, though I loved how Magic Johnson could play guard in a power forward body.

After those players retired I suffered through the mid 90s. Then they traded Vlade Divac to Charlotte for some kid that went into the draft straight out of high school.

His name: Kobe Bryant. Little did I know he would restore the Lakers to their 80s glory.

He won five titles in his 20 seasons in L.A., and was a contender in all but the last few years. Like most athletes who played that hard for that long, his body began to betray him. That said, no other NBA guard had played 20 seasons before Bryant.

The mantel of the “face of the league” has long been handed to Steph Curry. With 402 3s, many from far beyond most players’ “desperation in a game of horse” range, he has thrilled fans all season long as his team set the NBA standard with 73 victories.

But for one night, with playoff hopes for this season a long distance memory, Bryant channeled his prime time “Black Mamba” personna one last time. Yes, he put up 50 shots, but he scored 15 points in the Lakers’ 17-2 run to the his final game with a victory.

I watched Bryant’s postgame presser, and watched him smoothly and fluently answer questions in multiple languages. His time in Europe as his father played professionally there are part of the reason, but there are a lot of players who can’t fluently answer questions in the one language they know.

I know Bryant is as hated by as many as he is loved, if not more. But one cannot help but respect what he did on a basketball court.

Mount Marty women succeeding with South Dakota talent

MMC Host Northwestern To Open GPAC Tourney

The Mount Marty College women’s basketball team prepares to take the floor for Saturday’s home and regular season finale against Nebraska Wesleyan. The Lancers (21-9, 15-7) earned the second seed in the Great Plains Athletic Conference Tournament and will host Northwestern on Wednesday at 7 p.m. (James D. Cimburek/P&D)

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

Last week we detailed the offensive system – remember “pace, space and tempo”? – that has become the staple of the Mount Marty College women’s basketball program under head coach Tom Schlimgen?

There’s another area that deserves attention, as well.

The recruitment of in-state players.

If you attend Wednesday night’s GPAC Tournament game, take a close look at the roster in your game program. Here’s what you’ll see: A lot of South Dakota hometowns.

This season, the Lancer women – who are ranked No. 19 in the country – have vaulted back into the national conversation thanks to those in-state girls. And it’s much the same story as we saw in 2007, 2009 and 2011, the previous three times Mount Marty reached the NAIA National Tournament.

The top nine scorers on this season’s squad hail from places like Summit, Tabor, Parkston, Elkton, Lake Andes, Bryant, Sioux Falls, Hartford and Centerville. In fact, of the 18 players on the roster, 15 hail from inside our borders. And those other three aren’t coming from Kansas or Florida or Colorado or somewhere like that; no, they’re from Iowa (two) and Nebraska.

Put another way: Tom Schlimgen, along with his top assistant (and son) Todd, haven’t had to put many miles on their cars to find players for their system.

And they’ve found success with that philosophy.

Consider:

* Tom Schlimgen’s first team (2008-09) went 24-9 and reached the national tournament with 18 of 21 players coming from South Dakota.

* The 2010-11 squad went 22-10 and again reached the national tournament, that time with 15 of 17 players coming from South Dakota.

* And this season, that ratio is 15 of 18. The Lancers, with a 21-9 record, are likely to qualify for the national tournament, even if, for example, they were to lose Wednesday.

Now, to be fair, there were times in the last handful of years where Mount Marty had a handful of South Dakota players on the roster and struggled – the Lancers went 13-17 just two seasons ago, for example.

The difference this season, as I’ve come to believe, is due mostly to the leadership of those in-state recruits, as well as the offensive style – spacing, three-pointers, driving to the hoop, etc. – that has allowed them to flourish.

Either way, it’s been a fun ride this season. And it’s likely to continue for a couple of weeks.

Stiegelmeier at Yankton QB Club

 

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

John Stiegelmeier said he learned something rather important last fall.

The South Dakota State head football coach and his assistant coaches sent out a text message to their players last May with the following message: ‘top 8 seed.’

The message was to serve as a motivation for the Jackrabbits, who came into the 2015 season although ranked but maybe not expected to finish as one of the top eight seeds for the FCS playoffs – which would have meant a first-round bye and a second-round home game.

Stiegelmeier_6033

SDSU football coach John Stiegelmeier speaks to a Yankton resident on Wednesday at Yankton QB Club. (Jeremy Hoeck/P&D)

“We sent that in every text and every email after that; top 8 seed, to raise the bar with a team that you should be saying that to,” Stiegelmeier told the Yankton Quarterback Club crowd on Wednesday afternoon.

Ultimately, SDSU came up just short of a top-8 seed but still got a postseason invitation – the program’s fourth in a row. The Jacks lost on the road at Montana in the first round.

While SDSU was frustrated that it got out-bid by Montana for that playoff opener, Stiegelmeier said he still learned a valuable lesson throughout the season.

“Never doubt, never question a bunch of young men that have banded together and worked their tails off,” he said, referring to the ‘top 8 seed’ message.

Making his annual visit to Yankton QB Club the Wednesday after National Signing Day, Stiegelmeier touched on a number of other topics during his speech.

Yankton Players

One of the 29 recruits announced last week by the Jackrabbits was Yankton High School senior Bradey Sorenson, who is a nationally-ranked long snapper.

Sorenson will join five other Yankton graduates on the 2016 roster in Brookings, and that was understandably a popular topic Wednesday.

Stiegelmeier said Yankton fans should be especially proud of defensive lineman Kellen Soulek.

“Kellen came in with some pressure on him,” the coach said. “I’m more proud of this; he’s a better student in college than he was in high school.”

Soulek, who made 33 tackles (with 0.5 sacks and an interception) last season for the Jacks, could be an NFL prospect if he was on the offensive line, according to Stiegelmeier.

Another Yankton graduate, Brady Hale, was SDSU’s starting punter last season and his backup was another former Buck, Troy Hunhoff. Stiegelmeier said he looks forward to that battle in the spring.

The Jackrabbits have moved Yankton native Evan Greeneway from tight end to tackle, while Matt Fitzgerald is “working his tail off to get stronger,” Stiegelmeier said.

The coach also commended Yankton’s program, under head coach Arlin Likness, for the development of Division I-ready players.

“Credit to Arlin Likness, credit to your community, credit to these young men working their tails off,” Stiegelmeier said. “These young men are playing at a high level of football.”

Recruiting Class

Stiegelmeier also made very clear during his speech that SDSU does not use the term “walk-on” during the recruiting process, instead calling those players – like Sorenson – “non-scholarship athletes.”

“I don’t use the term the school down south in Nebraska uses; walk-on,” he said, “because I don’t think it’s fair to recruit 60 walk-ons and two play, and then boast that that’s an honor.”

One of the six South Dakota players the Jacks signed last week was Mitchell quarterback Kanin Nelson, who Stiegelmeier said is already enrolled in classes at SDSU and is working out with the team.

That is becoming a trend with Division I schools, Stiegelmeier said.

“Ohio State probably has 10 true freshmen at their school right now that are going to go through winter workouts,” he said. “Instead of having your 10th semester when your eligibility is done, they are literally coming early.”

Nelson will be a “seasoned guy” by the time fall camp rolls around in August, Stiegelmeier added.

“That’s a way of the world at our level of football,” he said.

Contract Situation

Stiegelmeier was asked Wednesday about the South Dakota Board of Regents situation with multi-year contracts versus the current policy of one-year contracts.

The issue came up two weeks ago when the Regents decided to pursue a permanent salutation rather than grant the University of South Dakota a one-time exception to hire new football coach Bob Nielson to a multi-year deal.

The current BOR policy prohibits multi-year contracts for “non-faculty exempt employees such as coaches,” as the Associated Press put it.

Stiegelmeier, who said SDSU has been working on such a policy push for three years “behind the scenes,” said there isn’t one Division I football coach in the country that does not have a multi-year contract.

He said it presents a problem when he tries to hire assistant coaches – which he is currently doing – who may be coming from other schools with a multi-year contract.

“If you’ve grown up in South Dakota, you don’t just snap your fingers and things change,” said Stiegelmeier, a native of Selby.