Beaver built: Hanson’s Slaba named Republic’s boys basketball player of the year
ALEXANDRIA -- Reggie Slaba grew up -- figuratively and literally -- with the Hanson Beavers.
Slaba has gone from waterboy, student manager, a 5-foot-3 freshman and ultimately a first-team all-state guard for the Beavers. Slaba’s father, Ray, is an assistant coach for the Hanson boys basketball team and that exposed Reggie to the program at a young age. From the bench, Reggie was along for the ride when the Beavers made state tournament trips in 2012 and 2015.
“It was really an awesome experience,” Reggie said. “I got to be a part of the program really early and see the ups and downs of the program. I finally got to high school and it was really big for me just because I have been watching for so long and ever since I was a little kid.”
He put his own stamp on the program, finishing as a 1,000-point scorer and holds three program records. He had a breakout 2019-20 season and posted 21.5 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals per game as a senior.
He also broke loose for a handful of slam dunks during his senior campaign. Not bad for the 6-foot guard who had a tough time touching the net as a freshman.
“He wasn’t very big and he will be the first one to tell you that,” Hanson coach Josh Oltmanns said. “I think that was always in the back of his mind and motivation to get to where he’s gotten and everything he’s done.”
It’s led to him being voted The Daily Republic boys basketball player of the year. Slaba received three first-place votes and 19 total points in the voting, which is conducted by the newspaper’s sports staff and dates back to 1995. He’s the first Hanson player chosen for the award since Taylor Nichols in 2015.
The area standouts that received consideration for the award included: Winner’s Brady Fritz (who also received a first-place vote), Mitchell’s Caden Hinker, Platte-Geddes’ Kelby VanDerWerff, Bridgewater-Emery’s Chase Arend, Ethan’s Brady Hawkins, Sanborn Central/Woonsocket’s Noah Dickson, Burke’s Jaden Frank and Canistota’s Tyce Ortman.
Growing up around basketball
Ray Slaba took Reggie and his classmates to basketball tournaments when they were in elementary school. Ray laughs now and says the group wasn’t very good in the early years.
“It was really neat to see where they came through the years, and then to go 18-4 this year with these kids, it’s been really neat,” Ray said. “Not only with my son but all the kids his age and I think there’s a neat group of kids there that we’ve done a lot together through the years.”
Ray has been Oltmanns’ assistant for 10 seasons. Reggie tagged along to practices and Oltmanns developed a different relationship with him -- even if he was a nuisance at times.
“I was chewing him for shooting the ball when I was trying to coach or talk,” Oltmanns said. “It’s almost like he’s probably my kid for six months out of the year when we have basketball to be honest.”
Reggie’s first duty with the program was a waterboy. Oltmanns remembers Reggie and former Hanson player Craig Lasley celebrating on the bench during the 2012 state tournament run.
Reggie was a student manager when the Beavers won the 2015 Class B title. In the state tournament, Hanson won the three games by a total of six points and knocked off Langford Area, 47-44, in overtime for the state championship. Hanson’s Jordan Marquardt was an all-state guard and a key cog on the championship team. He also made an impression on the former student manager.
“I always kind of liked to model my game after him and how he just kept shooting and he always had a good attitude on the court,” Reggie said. “He was a good leader for his teammates and that’s kind of a player who I think of from Hanson in the last few years.”
This season, Reggie became a first-team all-state selection like Marquardt. However, it didn’t come without some ups and downs. Reggie was always one of the shorter players and admits now it was frustrating to see everybody else growing faster than him.
He adapted. He used his speed and quickness, while he also developed a jump shot.
“I remember his sixth-grade year, we put him into the game and all of a sudden he shot one from about five-feet behind the (3-point) line,” Ray said. “I was getting ready to yell at him and he nailed it. It was hard to take those away and over the years, that almost seemed to be his strength was shooting a little further back. So it helped him in the long run.”
Reggie eventually sprouted as his game continued to evolve. He was 5-foot-3 as a freshman, 5-foot-6 as a sophomore, 5-foot-10 as a junior and 6-foot his senior season.
‘Gave me chills’
Like every basketball player, Reggie wanted to throw down a dunk.
But his height made it difficult during his younger years. He had trouble reaching the net as a freshman and could finally touch the rim as a sophomore. Reggie could almost put one down as a junior, but it finally happened this season.
In the season’s second game against McCook Central/Montrose, Slaba tipped a pass on defense, received the ball from Riley Ferry, and took flight for a two-handed jam.
It was the first of several slam dunks during his senior campaign. He had games with multiple two-handed, breakaway jams. However, the first dunk is the one he’ll remember the most.
“It was kind of a blur,” Reggie said. “I just remember coming down from it and the crowd was going wild and it was just a great moment for me.”
Ray said the first dunk “gave me chills,” and he commemorated the moment on Twitter. Ray tweeted pictures of Reggie as a 5-foot-3 freshman and one of his first dunk, and tagged his son, adding: “Not too bad for the kid who couldn’t touch the net freshman year.”
@ReggieSlaba Not too bad for the kid who couldn’t touch the net freshman year pic.twitter.com/Hsa37WlZaI— Ray Slaba (@rslaba) December 20, 2019
“I never would have guessed in a thousand years he would be throwing down seven dunks his senior year,” Ray said. “It wasn’t something that you thought about setting out to do, but wow, it was sure neat to experience.”
He was about more than dunking and took on more of a scoring role the past two seasons. He drilled a school-record 11 3-pointers against Avon as a junior and hit a school-record 75 3-pointers this season. He poured in a school-record 47 points and hit eight 3-pointers against Mount Vernon/Plankinton on Feb. 6.
He was the unquestioned go-to scorer for the Beavers, who just like Reggie’s game, improved each of the past four seasons. They went 10-12 his freshman season, 12-11 his sophomore campaign and 16-6 his junior year. This year’s 18-4 record was the best mark since the state championship run in 2015.
Hanson’s three regular season defeats were against State B tournament qualifying teams Viborg-Hurley, Aberdeen Christian and Platte-Geddes. The Beavers entered Region 4B action as the No. 1 seed, but were upset by No. 5 Elkton-Lake Benton in the semifinals.
Reggie finished with 15 points in his final game, but was praised by Oltmanns for still relishing the scoring role to the very end.
“He put it on himself to kind of carry us,” Oltmanns said. “That’s pretty special. Even though a lot of kids when they don’t make their first few, they might not want that pressure anymore and he still liked that type of pressure.”
Slaba finished his career with 1,011 points, 193 rebounds, 160 assists and 76 steals.
Multi-sport athlete looks toward future
Reggie kept himself busy with multiple sports and also excelled in the classroom. He’s a member of the National Honor Society, participated in Quiz Bowl and maintains a 3.6 grade-point average.
He was an all-state football player and plays baseball during the spring and summer. Reggie won last year’s Class B 800-meter title with a school-record time of 1 minute and 58.46 seconds. He praised all his coaches for having a hand in his development as a multi-sport standout.
“That’s kind of what I take pride in is being a multi-sport athlete, and they’ve helped me out so much and just being the person I am and the athlete I am today,” Slaba said.
It also put him on the radar for college coaches. He narrowed his choices down to basketball or track, and local schools made it hard to turn down hoops. Dakota Wesleyan University wanted him to play basketball, while Dakota State University offered him for both sports.
Division I schools South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota came knocking at his door for track and field.
Slaba has family ties to SDSU. Slaba’s father, Ray, attended SDSU and his sister, Brooke, is currently enrolled at the school. However, Ray didn’t persuade him toward SDSU and let him make his own decision.
The Jacks still won out and Reggie picked them shortly after the basketball season concluded. He cited the coaches, facilities and the university itself for picking SDSU. He’s leaning toward majoring in business economics or exercise science.
“It almost seemed like the opportunity was too good to pass up,” Reggie said. “So I am really happy with my decision.”
But he’ll still miss shooting and dunking for team he dreamed of playing for: the Hanson Beavers.
“I am just going to miss coming to play in front of the home crowd and just the team atmosphere and playing with your teammates,” Reggie said. “I am going to miss that part of it.”
Here's a look at the rest of the award nominees with vote total in parentheses:
Brady Fritz, Winner (17): Fritz, a junior, scored 27.5 points per game, while shooting 46 percent from the field and 85 percent on free throws. He was a second-team Class A all-state selection. Fritz, who surpassed the 1,200-point mark this season, had nine games of 30 points or more, including a 39-point showing against Stanley County in late February. Fritz also had 6.7 rebounds per game for the Warriors, who were 16-6 this season.
Caden Hinker, Mitchell (5): Hinker blossomed into a top offensive threat for the Kernels, posting 17.6 points per game, while shooting 45 percent from the field as a sophomore. He also had six rebounds per game and was a 36 percent 3-point shooter, as Mitchell bounced back in the win column with seven wins. Hinker was a second-team all-state selection in Class AA, and is the Kernels’ first all-state honoree since 2015.
Kelby VanDerWerff, Platte-Geddes (5): A 6-foot-5 senior forward, VanDerWerff led a balanced Black Panthers team to a victory in the SoDak 16 and back into the Class B state tournament field with a 20-3 record. He averaged 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and shot 48 percent from the floor, while hitting 43 percent of his 3-point tries.
Chase Arend, Bridgewater-Emery (4): Arend, a 5-foot-11 senior guard, scored 20.4 points per game for the Huskies, who were 11-11 on the season. Arend was a second-team all-state selection, shooting 45 percent and hitting 34 percent of his 3-pointers. He also averaged 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, while snaring 79 steals during the season.
Brady Hawkins, Ethan (3): Hawkins, who was The Daily Republic’s football player of the year earlier this school year, excelled on the basketball court for the Rustlers, who were 15-6 for the season. Hawkins, a 6-foot-3 senior guard/forward, averaged 20.2 points and 13 rebounds per game, earning second-team Class B all-state honors. He also swiped 49 steals on defense.
Noah Dickson, Sanborn Central/Woonsocket (3): A 6-foot-3 senior forward for the Blackhawks, Dickson has been a model of consistency for SCW, averaging a double-double for a third-straight season. He posted 20 points and 11 rebounds per game, while shooting 52 percent from the field. Dickson was also an 80 percent free-throw shooter and averaged 2.8 assists per game.
Jaden Frank, Burke (2): Frank was a third-team Class B all-state selection for the Cougars, who were 16-5 this season. A 6-foot-3 guard/forward, Frank averaged 22 points per game, while shooting 55 percent from the field, while averaging five rebounds and four assists per game, while grabbing 93 steals and blocking 42 shots.
Tyce Ortman, Canistota (2): Ortman, a 5-foot-11 junior guard, helped lead the Hawks back to the Class B state tournament and a 19-4 mark on the year. He was a third-team all-state selection, averaging 14.7 points per game and shooting 48 percent on field goals. He was a 37 percent 3-point shooter who also averaged nearly six rebounds per game, 4.2 assists and had 74 steals on the year.
Past award winners: 1995: Chris Janssen, Emery; 1996: Cody Vollmer, Lyman; 1997: Mike Miller, Mitchell; 1998: Mike Miller, Mitchell; 1999: Doug Hall, Scotland; 2000: Jared Reiner, Tripp-Delmont; 2001: Matt Jones, Alpena-Wessington Springs; 2002: Ben DeWaard, Stickney; 2003: Nathan Graves, Mitchell Christian; 2004: Mike Steffen, Mount Vernon; 2005: Preston Broughton, Corsica; 2006: Danny Fathke, Avon; 2007: Matt Malloy, Parkston; 2008: Jordan Miller, Mitchell; 2009: David Maxwell, Parkston; 2010: Jesse Tolsma, Mitchell Christian; 2011: Tucker Volesky, Mitchell; 2012: Jade Miller, Mitchell; 2013: Jesse Taylor, Kimball/White Lake; 2014: Coby Johnson, Platte-Geddes; 2015: Taylor Nichols, Hanson; 2016: Seth Friesz, Chamberlain; 2017: Sawyer Schultz, Bridgewater-Emery; 2018: Sawyer Schultz, Bridgewater-Emery; 2019: Sawyer Schultz, Bridgewater-Emery; 2020: Reggie Slaba, Hanson