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Hoop City Classic Notebook: Classic deemed success despite snowy conditions

Findlay Prep's PJ Fuller drives to the basket against La Lumiere's Gerald Drumgoole on Friday at the Corn Palace during the Hoop City Classic. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

The ninth annual Hoop City Classic didn't go off without a hitch, but it was still another successful event, said tourney director Ernie Kuyper.

Mitchell was blanketed with 11-plus inches of snow during the four-day classic, forcing Kuyper to reshuffle the schedule.

"It was a major challenge, but we worked through it," Kuyper said. "It is, what it is. There's nothing you can do about Mother Nature. So we just rolled with it and it turned out great."

Kuyper contacted the teams participating in the classic before they departed and informed them of the snowstorm ahead of time. The Aberdeen Central boys and girls basketball teams canceled, while Kuyper added Harrisburg girls and Sioux Falls Washington boys to Friday's docket. However, neither team made it due to the weather and that forced two cancellations.

But six games were played at the Corn Palace on Friday and the classic continued to roll after that, with action continuing through the weekend in Mitchell and Sioux Falls.

"Just awesome basketball to watch," Kuyper said. "Thank goodness the fans found a way to come out through the snow."

Kuyper regularly receives positive feedback from the teams every year and did so again this year. Nationally ranked No. 1 La Lumiere (Ind.) is no stranger to the event, but it was the first year since 2013 it played at the Corn Palace.

"We've got a great relationship with Ernie Kuyper," La Lumiere coach Patrick Holmes said. "He's our guy and puts on a heck of an event. It's a great basketball community. I was excited to get over here in Mitchell because I have heard so many great things and it didn't disappoint."

Kuyper said plans for the next Hoop City Classic will start within the next few weeks. The dates are Dec. 27-29.

"We are going to figure out who is coming back and who is in from South Dakota," Kuyper said. "Just start getting ready to put on another classic. I guess it's become the tradition around there in Mitchell and South Dakota around the holidays."

Kernel girls experience first Hoop City Classic

For the first time in the Hoop City Classic's nine-year history, the Mitchell High School girls basketball team participated. Shaking off a slow start, the Kernels were led by Payton Morgan's 14 points to top Waconia (Minn.) 59-50 at the Corn Palace on Friday.

Due to the snow, Mitchell's 9:30 a.m. game was pushed back to 11 a.m., though it's still not the time slot coach Wes Morgan envisioned.

"It would have been nice if they would have let us play later in the day. That was kind of a bummer," Coach Morgan said, adding he wanted to play before the Kernel boys later that night. "Other than that, the kids liked playing on the floor. Waconia is a heck of a team. It's nice to have a good game against a really good team."

Despite being a home game, the Kernels had to adjust to 18-minute halves instead of eight-minute quarters, as well as facing an out-of-state team. Coach Morgan said it didn't change their gameplan, though.

"We just prepared like any other team," coach Morgan said. "Found out what they ran a little bit and what their roster looked like."

Mitchell also had to deal with not practicing for six days due to the holidays and a snow day on Thursday. Its only practice came 30 minutes before tip-off, forcing him to lean on his six seniors.

Despite improving to 3-2 with a win over Minnesota Class 3A No. 9 Waconia, the Kernels' future in the event hasn't been decided yet.

"I don't know. I'm not sure about that," coach Morgan said when asked if Mitchell will return. "It's a really nice tournament, it's (exciting) to go and be in."

La Lumiere's big men carry it to win

There was not a lack of size between USA Today No. 1 La Lumiere (Ind.) and Findlay Prep (Nev.) on Friday night at the Corn Palace in the Lakers' 83-79 overtime win, pushing it to 11-0 all-time in the Hoop City Classic. The Lakers were powered by five-star big men Isaiah Stewart (6-9) and Keion Brook (6-8), facing a Pilot team with five players listed at 6-foot-9 or taller.

In fact, one of the most highly-anticipated matchups was between Stewart and Findlay Prep's 6-foot-9 three-star Raymond Hawkins. Despite being matched on each other for most of the night, both found ways to impact the game.

Thanks to an unrelentless motor, Stewart stuffed the stat sheet for 24 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks. He also limited Hawkins to nine points and five rebounds. Although, the Findlay Prep big man hit the game-tying shot as time expired to send the game to overtime, which came after Stewart blocked his first attempt.

"It was a fun matchup, fun guarding (Hawkins)," Stewart said. "... He had some momentum early, and I think I slowed it down. I slowed it down and made sure to take care of business on the defensive side."

Brooks, who poured in a team-high 25 points, admitted Findlay Prep's size was challenging. That said, he cited practices where La Lumiere works on "different finishes around the rim and attacking the rim hard," as well as experience against other big teams as why they were able to still shoot 66.7 percent from inside the arc in the second half and overtime.

La Lumiere won the Iolani Classic in Hawaii the prior week, which included a win over USA Today No. 4 Montverde Academy (Fla.). Meanwhile, Stewart said it's more than just La Lumiere's size.

"It's all about heart at the end of the day. It's not about height," Stewart said. "If you have this inside, the mindset you're not getting outworked, not getting outbeat. I got that and that's all I need."

Even with all the size, Findlay Prep guard and TCU commit PJ Fuller had a game-high 28 points, littered with dunks, acrobatic finishes and four 3-pointers. La Lumiere put an emphasis on getting the ball out of his hands in the second half.

"I've been playing against PJ since sixth, seventh grade," Brooks said. "I knew what he was capable of. He really came out hot tonight, he was feeling good, so we had to do as much to get the ball out of his hands."

SD has solid year against out-of-state foes

Yankton's win in the Coach Gary Munsen tournament championship Saturday over DeLaSalle (Minn.), 71-65 in overtime, in Sioux Falls capped a stronger than normal season for the South Dakota schools against out-of-state competition at the Hoop City Classic.

In boys games, four South Dakota schools won games at the classic, including two wins from the Class AA No. 1-ranked Bucks, who also beat Dominican (Wis.) by 20 points on Dec. 28. Sioux Falls Christian and Brandon Valley also convincingly won their games Saturday in Sioux Falls, as well. In all, South Dakota boys teams were 4-6 in 2018, marking the state's best showing since a 3-4 year in 2013.

On the girls side of the event, Mitchell and Sioux Falls Christian both won games, continuing the state's strong performance in girls games at the classic. South Dakota schools are now 5-1 all-time against out-of-state competition since girls games were introduced in 2015.

For the nine-year history of the event, South Dakota schools have won 19 of the 72 all-time boys meetings with teams from out-of-state. Yankton's win marked only the second time DeLaSalle has lost to a South Dakota team at the Classic, last occurring in 2011, when Sioux Falls Roosevelt won 62-60. The Islanders have won six of the last seven Minnesota Class 3A state championships, and are ranked No. 1 in the state's most recent poll.

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