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Basketball: “I tell kids to pursue their basketball dreams, but I tell them to not let that be their only dream.” – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

It was billed as the battle of the twin towers and I plead guilty to playing a part in the build-up.

(You know how the media is.)

In January of 1974, I was still covering sports for the Huron Plainsman, and the game of the week – actually, the game of the month, or was it the season? – was between Huron, which boasted the 7-foot Brian Shanks, and Yankton, which countered with 6-11 Chad Nelson.

Huron had won the state title the year before, but Yankton was off to a fast start thanks to not only Nelson but a talented supporting cast.

The build-up collapsed before it really got started. Nelson, attempting to defend Shanks in the paint, came down on the side of his foot, spraining his ankle.  He left the game with two minutes remaining in the half.

The loss of their mighty center only seemed to inspire the Bucks, who exploded in a second-half scoring binge to win the game, 74-54.

Shanks scored 27 points in the game, but the Bucks went on to win the state tournament that year.

Shanks played some college ball, but didn’t make the mark some had hoped he would. Nelson did better, and actually played professional ball in Europe.

It’s been said that South Dakota has two seasons: winter and road construction. To that I’d add this: South Dakotans have two preoccupations following Christmas: winter weather and basketball. Some like to include the state Legislature and politics as an indoor sport, but I’m inclined to ignore that, for the moment.

We’re already well into post season play, and I’m remembering some of the boys’ games that led to that coveted state tournament path. One of the best was a regional playoff between the Reliance Longhorns and Chamberlain Cubs for a B berth in 1960. The Cubs won in the final moments and sadly, the Longhorns never did make it to the big show.

A few years later, the Miller Rustlers accomplished the extraordinarily rare feat of going undefeated, winning the state title in 1972 in part because of the stellar play of Kim Templeton, who went on to become Black Hills State’s all-time scoring leader. Miller, the smallest school in Class A competition, beat Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Yankton. The scores weren’t even close.

Winter is fading; basketball is replacing it as the favorite topic of conversation, and I am so ready for that.

March 13, 2019