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Mitchell losing half of Miller Classic to Sioux Falls

Half of this year's Mike Miller Classic will be held in Sioux Falls, event organizer Ernie Kuyper said Monday.

The classic is a multi-day high school boys basketball event that has been hosted annually for four years, with all games previously held at the Corn Palace in Mitchell.

Kuyper, a Mitchell native, said this year's event will be held Dec. 27 at Mitchell's Corn Palace and then resume Dec. 29 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.

"To me, the Corn Palace and the Pentagon are two of the most unique venues in the world," Kuyper told The Daily Republic. "It's all about the exposure for South Dakota and giving the kids the best venues to play in. This event, in Mitchell and Sioux Falls, will raise the basketball awareness of the state, without question."

He disputes the notion that move is a slight to Mitchell and its similarly sized arena.

"It's not leaving Mitchell," he said. "That's not the way I see it."

Kuyper said the goal has been to promote South Dakota basketball and its talent since the first Mike Miller Classic in 2010, and the Corn Palace is still part of that plan.

The classic has brought in nationally ranked high school boys basketball teams and some of the nation's top-ranked recruits to play South Dakota teams. It was started to recognize Mitchell native Mike Miller, an NBA player with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the town and venue in which he grew up playing basketball.

Kuyper said the opening ceremony and initial day of games this year will be held at the Corn Palace. The chance to play games in at the Pentagon, the 3,200-seat basketball facility finished last year in northwest Sioux Falls, was a no-brainer, Kuyper said.

"Everything worked great," he said. "The Corn Palace has been great. This was just about getting the awareness of the event up and playing at a really great facility like the Pentagon. It's going to be the best of both worlds, in my opinion."

A representative for the Sanford Pentagon said contracts to hold the event there have not been signed yet and declined to comment further until that happens. Corn Palace Interim Director Jeri Mickelson said Monday that details regarding this year's event are being worked on, but nothing is finalized.

"They're trying to make it work for all parties involved," she said.

Kuyper said organizers are working on getting an ESPN-televised game for the classic, which would be broadcast from the Pentagon. He said the Pentagon has built a quality reputation for televised games and thinks it could be in the event's future. He said attempts in the past to get a nationally televised game from the Corn Palace were unsuccessful.

Mitchell Activities Director Geoff Gross said the Kernel boys plan on playing both days in the event, as they've been invited as a participant. The pairings and teams for the midseason event have not been officially set.

Mitchell boys basketball coach Erik Skoglund said the chance to play at the Pentagon is a big deal for his team, even if it means losing a home game in the process.

"Everyone wants to play at home, but we're going to be playing at a first-class facility that is going to be a special experience for our kids," he said. "Our guys know about the Division I games they've had there and the NBA exhibitions, and they know it's a big deal."

He said playing at the Pentagon is a good chance to get used to a state tournament atmosphere in Sioux Falls, a likely site of several future state tournaments when the new Denny Sanford Premier Center is finished this fall.

"They're going to have two really great places to play and that's only good for our teams to get a taste of that," said Skoglund, who enters his second year as Mitchell coach this winter. "We always say that the Mike Miller Classic is our 'state tournament in December,' and I still think that's going to be the case."

Kuyper said the event this year will feature Skal Labissiere and his Evangelical Christian School squad out of Memphis, Tenn. Labissiere, a 6-foot-10 forward, has interest from schools like Kentucky, North Carolina, Memphis and Georgetown and is widely considered to be a top-10 prospect in the 2015 recruiting class.

Findlay Prep (Las Vegas, Nev.), La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.), DeLaSalle and Patrick Henry, both of Minneapolis, are among the other confirmed teams for the event, Kuyper said.

Mitchell resident Jim Johnston, who owns Harve's Sport Shop and has officiated high school basketball, said he's disappointed with the news but not surprised because the Pentagon has been aggressive in landing high-profile events.

"I think the city has supported it very well. I don't think it was anything that Mitchell didn't do," Johnston said. "Things have just gotten that much more competitive."

He remembered a major snow storm in 2010 that stalled most of the area travel, but teams were here and the games were played with large crowds still on hand. He said there's no reason that needs to change.

"I just hope we can really support the event and hold on to that one day," he said. "If that's as much as we can get, that's fine and let's keep getting behind it."