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Last-minute changes to Hoop City Classic schedule allow teams to pull off rare double duty for games

Thunder Basin, Wyoming and Houston, Tennessee will play twice in single day during event

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Thunder Basin (Wyo.) coach Rory Williams talks to his team at the end of the first quarter during a Hoop City Classic basketball game on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021 at the Corn Palace. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

In recent years, a Hoop City Classic going off without a hitch has been tough to pull off.

Snow caused the schedules in 2018 and 2019 to be altered or games canceled, due to weather issues for the teams involved. The 2020 classic never got off the ground due to COVID-19.

But the event is back in 2021 and even with COVID-19 still hanging around and making an impact, the Hoop City Classic is forging ahead.

READ MORE HERE: Breaking down the 2021 Hoop City Classic basketball teams and top players Games to be played over three days in Mitchell and Sioux Falls

That includes changing the schedule in the final hours before the first tipoff Tuesday and a couple of teams signing up to play twice in one day to make sure the games will still happen.

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On Tuesday, Thunder Basin, of Gillette, Wyoming, played a noon game against First Assembly Christian School (FACS), of Tennessee, and then had a few hours off before a scheduled 7:30 p.m. start time against Mitchell, for whom the Bolts were originally scheduled to play.

On Wednesday, Houston, Tennessee — the program that former Kernel and NBA standout Mike Miller’s sons have played for — will pull double duty, playing Thunder Basin at 2 p.m. and then Sioux Falls Jefferson at 6:30 p.m. at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls. Both teams will also play on Thursday, meaning each team will play four games in three days.

“They were both on board,” event organizer Ernie Kuyper said. “They said, ‘We’re traveling that far, let’s get another game and make it worth it.’ Their state associations allow it because their schedules had the room to make it work, so they both said, let’s bring it on.”

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First Assembly Christian (Tenn.) and Thunder Basin (Wyo.) play during a Hoop City Classic basketball game on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021 at the Corn Palace. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

The change was necessitated by the withdrawal of DeLaSalle, a top boys basketball program from Minneapolis, which said Monday that it would not be able to make the trip due to COVID-19 cases. The Islanders were scheduled to play once per day. It's the first time in the event's history that DeLaSalle hasn't participated, with the Islanders becoming a standard in the event.

“They were pretty down about not being able to come out and play and it’s just one of those things we’re all dealing with related to COVID,” Kuyper said. “They’re already looking forward to next year.”

Thunder Basin coach Rory Williams said he wants his team to face top competition while away from home.

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“In Wyoming, there’s only a certain number of schools that are our size, and so we’re looking for different opponents and different challenges,” Williams said. “We’re five and a half hours away, we might as well be playing basketball. It beats laying around on the couch, watching bowl games.”

After a close 48-46 loss to FACS in the first game Tuesday, Williams directed his players to stay off their feet and relax before the second game of the day.

Most states don’t have a rule barring a high school basketball team from playing more than once in a day. Because South Dakota teams are limited to 20 regular-season games, they frequently don’t have the room on their schedule to take on an additional, last-minute game unless it replaces another canceled contest. Kuyper said he frequently gets cooperation from teams that have made the investment to be in South Dakota over their winter holidays to make the schedule work out.

“When something like this happens, you just ask for someone to sacrifice,” Kuyper said. “And we have teams that want this to be a success, and they want to make it happen.”

A team playing twice in one day at the Hoop City Classic is not unprecedented. Coronado, Nevada, played two games on Dec. 28, 2012, and three times in a two-day span at the Corn Palace that year, falling in all three games.

But the games are going on, and after a cancellation in 2020, that’s a welcomed sight at the Hoop City Classic.

“It’s something we’ve all been looking forward to, and I know there’s a lot of kids and teams that are glad to have this opportunity,” Kuyper said. “We know this is something that a lot of people in Mitchell and in Sioux Falls work hard to put on the event and make it as strong as it can be each year.”

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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