The hugs and smiles were never-ending Friday night, as scores of former Kernels reminisced about a South Dakota basketball legend.
Surrounded by state championship trophies, family members and former players, the Corn Palace floor was dedicated for former boys and girls basketball coach Gary Munsen prior to the Mitchell High School game against Yankton. And while the dedication only lasted one night — for now — the former Kernels in the building embraced the opportunity to come together one last time to give their coach a hero’s farewell.
On hand to dedicate the court during the Mike Miller Classic was the tournament’s namesake himself: Mike Miller. Miller went on to play 17 seasons in the NBA after playing for Munsen, and the two-time NBA champion shared his thoughts on what it meant to play for a local sports legend as a teenager.
“I always tell people, good coaches change outcomes of games, great coaches change outcomes of lives,” Miller said about Munsen, who died in 2016. “And he truly did that for us.”
Miller was far from the only former Kernel in the iconic building to recognize the 12-time state title winner.
A pair of Kernels who played three decades apart participated in the festivities, and both have taken what they’ve learned from Munsen and applied it in their own careers.
Derek Robey was present for the reunion-like event Friday, sharing stories of Munsen with decades worth of Kernel basketball players. Since his Kernel playing days ended in the 1980s, Robey has led some top tier Sioux Falls O’Gorman squads — and coincidentally coached the team that delivered Munsen his last loss as a coach in 2012.
Like virtually every former player in attendance Friday night, Robey had fond memories of playing under Munsen.
“And for me, even though I was joking and saying, ‘I was the 20-point man’ — you know, I only went in when we were 20 points up or 20 points down — even though I was in that setting, Munsen always treated me like one of the other guys,” Robey told The Daily Republic. “He always treated me very fair, and he always made me feel very much a part of it, and I think that says a lot for him and his coaching style.”
On that boys team that Robey’s Knights defeated to end Munsen’s coaching career was Matt Henriksen, a Mitchell High School graduate who was also in attendance Friday. Like Robey, Henriksen also found his way into coaching, now an assistant boys coach at Sanborn Central/Woonsocket.
Henriksen said he learned a lot from Munsen, lessons he’s passed on to his own players.
“What he taught us is we’re kind of a family, we have each other’s backs, and that’s what I’m trying to bring up over there,” Henriksen told The Daily Republic.
Once the Mike Miller Classic wraps up, the court will return to its prior designation. It will simply be known as the Corn Palace floor, or nothing at all, unless the Mitchell City Council decides to name it after Munsen.
The council has tabled a vote on the permanent dedication twice, but a friend of Munsen didn’t see what was so controversial about honoring a local legend.
“I, personally, and I know many people in the community, would like to see the dedication last,” Jack Theeler said.