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Full-Court Press: De Smet Bulldogs polish off elusive championship season

“This is the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” Garry said. “There’s not a better feeling in the world than to be state champions.”

FULL-COURT PRESS

De Smet’s state championship felt like destiny.

On the court, the Bulldogs dominated the Class B competition time and time again. They punctuated the season with a resounding victory over Aberdeen Christian in the State B championship.

Off the court, former De Smet basketball coach Marv McCune battled leukemia during the fall and winter. McCune is the grandfather of senior Ethan McCune, while he coached a number of dads of the current players.

“We had plenty of that extra motivation with coach McCune battling cancer,” De Smet coach Jeff Gruenhagen said. “His deal was ‘I am going to go to Rochester and I will be back in time for the state tournament. So you guys better be there.’ He did that.”

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But the Bulldogs were without Bill Wilkinson, who is a former De Smet football coach and long-time supporter. He died on March 17 after battling health issues. He was 71. Wilkinson is the grandfather of De Smet players Damon and Colt Wilkinson and the uncle of Edger Wilkinson.

The team found out about Bill Wilkinson’s death prior to arriving in Aberdeen.

“I am very close to their family,” De Smet junior guard Kalen Garry said. “It was a horrible thing, but I love Bill. I know he was with us in this game and this is the best feeling in my life.”

The destined championship started last season. The Bulldogs were the No. 1 seed entering the state tournament, but COVID wiped out the 2020 boys basketball tournaments. This after the Bulldogs lost the 2019 state championship to Clark/Willow Lake.

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De Smet senior Ethan McCune (25) hoists the trophy as the Bulldogs won the State B boys basketball championship on March 20 at Wachs Arena. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

The wait was worth it.

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“We’ve been waiting a long time to get back,” De Smet junior guard Rett Osthus said. “The first time it was a great experience, but this was what we really wanted.”

The Bulldogs (25-1) put together one of the more impressive Class B campaigns in recent memory. Their lone loss was against eventual Class A runner-up Sioux Valley (54-50).

They were No. 1 in the Class B preseason poll and backed it up all season. During the regular season, the Bulldogs defeated quality Class B foes Dell Rapids St. Mary (69-33), Viborg-Hurley (58-54), Howard (54-51), Canistota (48-35), Platte-Geddes (64-51), Elkton-Lake Benton (74-52) and White River (76-63).

After chugging along through the postseason, De Smet only picked up steam at Wachs Arena. The Bulldogs were sharp against Lower Brule (80-53), pulled away from Viborg-Hurley (56-44) and weren’t going to be denied against Aberdeen Christian (59-43).

'He’s always with me': De Smet Bulldogs play with heavy heart after death of Bill Wilkinson

“This is the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” Garry said. “There’s not a better feeling in the world than to be state champions. Hats off to the coaches, teammates and fans. This is a dream come true for any athlete.”

Garry put an exclamation point on the championship. The 6-foot-3 guard stole the ball around mid-court in the closing seconds, hammered a two-handed jam and the Bulldog contingent erupted.

How long will Garry remember the slam dunk?

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“For the rest of my life,” he said.

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De Smet's Kalen Garry hammers a dunk to cap the State B boys basketball championship over Aberdeen Christian on Saturday at Wachs Arena. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

Garry, an all-stater, posted 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals in the title tilt. He averaged 23.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on his way to all-tourney honors, while he also became De Smet’s all-time leading scorer earlier in the season.

But the Bulldogs are far from a one-man team. Six-foot-7 sophomore reserve Damon Wilkinson earned all-tournament honors after averaging 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Osthus (10.7 ppg.), McCune (7.4 rpg/4.8 rpg), senior Cody Cavanaugh (7.0 ppg.) and junior Tory Holland (6.7 ppg/5.3 rpg) round out the starting lineup.

“We move the ball around well and this isn’t something where just Kalen Garry scores,” said Osthus, who also earned all-tournament honors. “Because he likes to get us involved and we get him involved and it’s just great team work.”

It’s also another chapter in De Smet’s historic basketball legacy. The Bulldogs now have six total state boys basketball championships -- five in Class B and one in Class A. De Smet accomplished this year’s feat with a host of familiar names.

Ethan McCune is the son of Dustin McCune, who played on the 1999 Class A state championship team. Jeff Gruenhagen’s son, Gannon, is a sophomore reserve for the Bulldogs.

Jeff Gruenhagen was on the 1987 state title team, as were Doug Osthus (Rett’s father) and Terry Holland (Tory’s father).

The championships don’t stop there for the Osthus family. Rett’s sister, Rynn, was on the 2019 De Smet girls basketball state championship team. Rett’s oldest sister, Rylie, was on the Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball national championship team in 2018.

“All of us have got one now,” Rett said. “It’s really cool.”

Up next, the Bulldogs will gear up for the 2021-22 season. The ‘Dogs will return Garry, Osthus, Holland and Wilkinson from this year’s core, while they’ll undoubtedly enter next season as the favorites.

“The next mission is just to show up here next year,” coach Gruenhagen said.

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The De Smet Bulldogs cheering section celebrate a basket during the State B boys basketball championship on March 20 at Wachs Arena. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

Three prolific scorers cap careers

The 2020-21 boys basketball season will be remembered for adding three new members to the 2,000-point club.

Dell Rapids St. Mary’s Connor Libis, Yankton’s Matthew Mors and Dakota Valley’s Paul Bruns each finishes their careers with more 2,000 career points. It’s believed to be the first boys basketball class to feature three different 2,000 point scorers.

Libis finished No. 3 on the all-time scoring list with 2,731 points, while Mors finished No. 4 with 2,707 points. Bruns ended with 2,206 points and No. 18 on the all-time list.

White River’s Louie Krogman is the all-time leader with 3,521 career points. Lake Norden’s Don Jacobsen is second with 2,825 points.

Libis (Briar Cliff), Mors (Wisconsin) and Bruns (North Dakota) will play college basketball next season.

Winner’s Swedlund named Mitchell Republic’s player of the year

Winner’s Bella Swedlund is this year’s Mitchell Republic girls basketball player of the year.

This season, she became Winner’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing Lisa Carlson (1,484). With her senior season left, Swedlund has 1,745 career points and a school record 249 3-pointers. She also broke season school records for most points (565), field goals made (219) and 3-pointers made (72).

The 5-foot-8 point guard averaged 22.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.9 steals per game this season.

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