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Top 10 moments in Hoop City (Mike Miller) Classic history

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Members of the Patrick Henry basketball team, along with Mitchell High School students react to a dunk made by IMG Academy's Keyontae Johnson during a game in the Mike Miller Classic in Dec. 2016 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Hoop City Classic has become a staple on the South Dakota sports calendar, and especially for Mitchell-area sports fans.

The mix of area and national talent delivered some great moments and special games over the years, and the event has proved to be the perfect bridge for local sports between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

In the 10th year of the Hoop City Classic, it was only fitting to look at 10 of the top highlights (in no particular order) in the event’s history:

A legendary meeting

Coaching greatness got together for a special occasion in 2011, when Custer’s Larry Luitjens and Mitchell’s Gary Munsen coached against each other in the classic. Luitjens’ Wildcats and Munsen’s Kernels both played in the inaugural 2010 event, and Luitjens led the charge to play the Kernels the next year in 2011, which marked the first time the two legends had faced off. Mitchell won the contest, 70-53, and the two coaches joking greeted each other in wheelchairs at midcourt prior to the game’s start.

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Coaches Larry Luitjens, left, and Gary Munsen greet each other at half court after jokingly being brought out in wheelchairs before their game Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 at the Corn Palace in Mitchell for the Mike Miller Classic. (Republic file photo)

The first big upset

National brands have been a main selling point for the Hoop City Classic from the start in 2010. And in Year No. 2, the big names delivered, as national No. 10-ranked La Lumiere (Ind.) upset No. 1 Findlay Prep (Nev.), 67-66, at the Corn Palace on Dec. 29, 2011. The victory came despite a game-high 25 points from future Gonzaga standout Nigel Williams-Goss. Seven years later, the teams faced off once again, with LaLumiere again winning in overtime, 83-79 at the Corn Palace on Dec. 28, 2018.

La Lumiere coach Alan Huss said his team “needed a win against a nationally ranked team to put us on the map.” Both teams went on to more national tournaments as Findlay Prep — which closed its doors earlier this year — was the champion in 2009, 2010 and 2012. La Lumiere remains a Classic regular that has never lost in Mitchell or Sioux Falls — the team is 11-0 all-time — and the Lakers won their first national tournament championship in 2017.

Split decision

The decision in 2015 to add the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls to the event schedule and split the games between Mitchell and Sioux Falls was a nerve-wracking one for those who believed Mitchell’s hometown event could be moved. But to this point, there has been more than enough basketball for both cities, and if anything, has given fans more basketball than they could possibly consume in a two- or three-day span, or over four days, which was the case in 2018. The addition of girls and men’s college teams has only bolstered the offerings, as has youth camps in both cities, and a youth tournament in Sioux Falls, making use of the Pentagon’s nine courts under one roof.

"I think both the Corn Palace and the Pentagon are phenomenal venues and what makes them phenomenal are the fans," said former Findlay Prep coach Andy Johnson said following his team’s games in 2015. "South Dakota has some of the best basketball fans. They are sitting on top of you and they let you know they are watching."

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In 2015 the Hoop City Classic added games at the Sioux Falls Pentagon to the event schedule. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Minnesota’s marquee program

For the DeLaSalle High School boys basketball team, their Minnesota state championship success aligned nicely with the start of the Hoop City Classic. In nine years of appearances, DeLaSalle has a 14-5 record.

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The Islanders participated every season since the start of the event in 2010, and starting in 2012, the Minneapolis-based Catholic school located on Nicollet Island in the middle of the Mississippi River has marched through the Minnesota’s second-largest class to state championships seven times in the last eight years. That included state titles from 2012 to 2017 under coach Dave Thorson (who is now an assistant coach at Colorado State University), and again in 2019, coached by DeLaSalle alum and former University of North Dakota standout Travis Bledsoe.

Some of the standout players for DeLaSalle have included Jonah Travis (who played at Harvard), younger brother Reid Travis (who starred later at Kentucky and Stanford), Tyrell Terry (who currently plays for the Cardinal), Sacar Anim and Goanar Mar (currently at Marquette and George Mason, respectively), Gabe Kalschuer and Jarvis Johnson (who both joined the Gophers).

An electric show

While there have been three times in which the nation’s No. 1 team has participated in the Mike Miller or Hoop City Classic, maybe one of the most electrifying teams to play in the event was ranked No. 3 nationally when IMG Academy visited in 2016. It was then that the first-time visitors brought along dozens of dunks and flashy plays to an excited crowd at the Corn Palace.

The team was highlighted by Trevon Duval, who was the nation’s No. 1 point guard at the time he visited the Corn Palace on Dec. 29, 2016, and the Ascenders blew out a talented DeLaSalle squad with ease 90-51. On the next night in Sioux Falls, they dispatched Sioux Falls O’Gorman 92-71. The Ascenders also had future Kansas player Silvio De Sousa, along with Florida players Keyontae Johnson and Isaiah Stokes, with the latter now at Memphis, and Emmitt Williams, who is now at LSU.

Duval went to Duke as a one-and-done player, played three games for the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this year, and is currently with the Minnesota Timberwolves G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

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IMG Academy's Trevon Duval shoots a 3-point basket over a DeLaSalle defender during a game in the Mike Miller Classic in Dec. 2016 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Changing the name

One of the biggest adjustments came in 2018, when Mike Miller took an assistant coaching job at the University of Memphis, alongside fellow NBA legend Penny Hardaway. That forced Miller to divulge himself of his interests in his M33M AAU basketball club and the basketball classic that included his name, because of the threat of NCAA issues with potential recruits, bringing on the Hoop City Classic name.

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The new name doesn’t have the same Miller allure, but even without the namesake status, it still has the clout, thanks to the continued leadership of Miller’s cousin and longtime leader of his basketball ventures Ernie Kuyper. Miller made a visit to Sioux Falls in 2018 for the event on recruiting business and said he was happy to see the classic continuing.

Self-service recruiting

Directly or otherwise, the classic has been quite the vehicle for the University of Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self to see or try to land recruits.

Self was there to see five-star Findlay Prep star Kelly Oubre in 2013, who he had received a commitment from a few months earlier. A year ago, Self was in attendance for the Sioux Falls portion of the event, watching Rochester (Minn.) John Marshall star Matthew Hurt, who eventually picked Duke four months later.

And Self has landed players without trips to South Dakota, including a trio of big men: Our Savior New American (N.Y.)’s Cheick Diallo, The Rock’s (Fla.) Joel Embiid and the aforementioned De Sousa. Diallo and De Sousa each had eligibility issues at Kansas, but Diallo is with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, and De Sousa is playing for the Jayhawks this year. Embiid is the biggest name of the three, already a two-time NBA all-star with the Philadelphia 76ers after being the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Self has hardly been the only one to make a stop at the event, of course. Former Nebraska coach Tim Miles and former South Dakota State coach T.J. Otzelberger have been among those to watch potential players, and the former namesake of the event himself — Memphis assistant coach Mike Miller — was witness to Hurt and Yankton’s Matthew Mors last year, with the latter since committing to Wisconsin.

A top scoring performance

In 10 years of the event, there remains one scoring performance that has yet to be topped, thanks to Tony Miller of Woodinville, Washington. He scored 42 points in a 81-54 victory over the hometown Kernels on Dec. 28, 2015. Miller was 16-for-26 shooting from the field, while covering 7-of-10 free throws and draining three 3-pointers. The night also included two highlight-reel dunks from the 6-foot-6 small forward.

Miller played at NCAA Division II Seattle Pacific as a freshman, where he was the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s freshman of the year. After two years, he transferred to Montana, where he did not play in 2018-19. In August, he transferred to Washington State University, where he’s played off the bench for the Cougars in the first of his two remaining years of eligibility.

A night for Munsen

Following Gary Munsen’s death in 2016, the loss of the Kernel coaching legend left a hole in the Mitchell basketball community.

But on Dec. 29, 2017, Mitchell honored Munsen prior to a Mike Miller Classic game against Yankton, drawing a large crowd to the Corn Palace and bringing Munsen’s star player, Mike Miller, back home. The event’s organizers also temporarily named the floor after Munsen.

“I always tell people, good coaches change outcomes of games, great coaches change outcomes of lives,” Miller said about Munsen. “And he truly did that for us.”

Each of the 12 state championship trophies won by Munsen’s teams were brought out onto the court, and the championship banners were lowered in a pregame ceremony. He logged 902 varsity wins as both a boys and girls coach in 42 years as a head coach, including 39 in Mitchell, with 12 Kernel state championships (nine boys and three girls).

Munsen, who was supportive of the Kernels playing in the classic in its formative years, has been honored for the last four years with the Coach Gary Munsen Tournament as part of the event

And while it was Mitchell’s night, Yankton claimed victory on the court in a 49-40 win. The Kernels’ players wore uniforms that had “Muns” written on the shoulder, modeled on his signature.

Tigers feel right at home

Since the addition of collegiate games in 2015, Dakota Wesleyan University’s men’s basketball team has maintained its home-court advantage at the Corn Palace.

The Tigers are 7-1 all-time in the event and won their first six contests played in conjunction with the event, until taking a 112-110 loss in overtime in 2018 to Peru State. Even in that lone loss, the Tigers had 78 combined points from guards Ty Hoglund and Nick Harden, including 43 points from Hoglund, the most from a college player in the event’s history. In its other 2018 game, DWU shot 59.3 percent from the field and made 15 3-pointers, while racking up 22 assists to just five turnovers in a 100-77 win over St. Mary (Kan.).

Other standout DWU performances include a 31-point showing from Trae Bergh in a 80-79 win over St. Mary in 2015, which included the game-winning free throws with less than 2 seconds remaining from Mitchell’s Tate Martin, and a 25-point, 11-rebound performance from Jason Spicer in 2016 against Southeastern (Fla.) in a 106-97 win.

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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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