The Dakota Schoolers are one of the most traditionally strong spring/summer basketball programs in the entire nation. For 25 years they have been an example of excellence helping produce high character student athletes through teachings on the hardwood. The first days…
The Dakota Schoolers are one of the most traditionally strong spring/summer basketball programs in the entire nation. For 25 years they have been an example of excellence helping produce high character student athletes through teachings on the hardwood. The first days of the Dakota Schoolers were just a young team playing a few events and 25 years later there are Dakota Schoolers throughout the landscape of college basketball.
Often successful businesses aren't started with a giant outline. Sometimes they begin because of a small event, or a gesture of good fun. The Dakota Schoolers played their first games so a father could watch his son.
“It was 1991 in Aberdeen, South Dakota,” said Schoolers Director Paul Seville. “It started as an eighth grade traveling team as a favor to my friend's son. The young man's father was in the Gulf War that year and missed all of his son's winter basketball so we started a summer team so he could see his son play.
“It was just a one year deal with a bunch of eighth graders. We had twelve kids on the team that year, that's how naive I was (Paul said with a laugh).”
Seville was the coach of this first group and they played in events in Mobridge, South Dakota, in Rapid City, and the team made a trip to Chicago where they played some club teams in the Windy City.
“We had a lot of fun with that group, had some success, and even though we made some modifications to the roster that group was together for four years,” said Seville.
“When they reached the high school level, that is when we played in a national AAU tournament when they were juniors to be. They were in the 16 and Under championships in Oklahoma City and then next year we played in the 17 and Under championships in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.”
This was about the time that the biggest events in the country were starting to be played in the Sonny Vaccaro events in Las Vegas. The Schoolers began competing in the desert and along the way started adding more teams at each level of play.
Seville started the Dakota Schooler program but with multiple teams at four different age groups at both the boys and girls level of play it takes a core of quality people to keep a successful program like the Schoolers going. Current 17 and Under Coach Kent Mueller is a Schooler veteran.
“Kent has been with me the longest,” Seville explained. “His son played with us in 1999 and 2000. Kent coached in 1999, didn't coach after that but I asked him to come back in 2003 and this is now his 13th straight summer as the 17 and Under Coach.”
Mueller is a World Geography and World History teacher at West Central Public school in Hartford, South Dakota where Mueller also coaches basketball and football.
“Kent breaks it down and keeps it simple for the kids. He commands respect from the players and he gets them to play hard. Kent gets more out of kids than most people do.
“He's brought a system of transition game to our program that we kind of ran before but not to the extent that Kent put in. He has brought a really fun brand of basketball to the way we play. He's also brought discipline as well as offensive sets, and he's had this program playing the right way.”
Evolution of the Spring/Summer Game
When the Dakota Schoolers began play it was a four event schedule played in only the summer months. The events were in Kearney, Nebraska, the Schoolers played in the Minnesota Select tournament, there was the regular event in Las Vegas, and they finished things up in “The Best of the Summer” put on by the Pump brothers out west.
Since then more and more teams throughout the country began playing taking talent from other teams in the more populated areas. This helped teams like the Dakota Schoolers who in the state of South Dakota don't have as many spring/sumer programs competing at this level.
“With more teams popping up around the country that has watered down the talent level allowing us to have a more level playing field,” Paul explained.
“In Minnesota there was Minnesota Select and Minnesota S.T.R.E.E.T.S and that was about it when we first started. Now they have teams all over the place (there are at least 104 Minnesota 17 and Under teams that have competed in four or more events this year) while we have been able to be a stable program in South Dakota.”
The Schoolers don't have as much fight for competition for players because they established themselves so long ago with success. When other programs have come along and try to add talent, the Schoolers have already built up a long standing reputation.
This has allowed the Dakota Schoolers to continue to get the best players, and there have been many.
The Best of the Best
At www.dakotaschoolers.com there is a “Boys Alumni” link that lists the who is who of basketball in South Dakota over the past 25 years. A listing of some of the best players in state history. PHD put Seville on the spot and asked about the “best of the best”.
“Obviously Mike Miller is the first player that comes to mind, Mike put us on the map. He was the first real high major prospect that we had.”
Miller is from Mitchell, South Dakota and he was a McDonald's High School All-American in 1998. Miller played with the Schoolers in 96 and 97 before heading off to Gainesville to play for the Florida Gators. This led to Miller being the fifth pick in the NBA draft in 2000 and ultimately 15 years in the NBA with seven different teams including the Cleveland Cavaliers who Miller is currently playing for now.
“After Mike we've had Jared Reiner who played for us in 1998 and 1999 before playing at Iowa and for a short time with the Chicago Bulls,” said Seville.
“Josh Mueller is another (played at South Dakota), Joe Krabbenhoft (played at Wisconsin and now coaches at South Dakota State), Cody Larson (Florida and South Dakota State), Denver TenBroek who played at North Dakota State, Aaron Rich who played at Montana State, Michael Tveidt who played at North Dakota State, Sam Willard who played at Pacific, and Zach Finley who played at Princeton.
“We've had a large group of division one players including four high major players including Zach Hanson who is a sophomore at Creighton right now. The Summit league with the division one schools in South Dakota and North Dakota have allowed a lot of kids that played division two ten years ago, The Summit now allows them to play at the D1 level which has been great.”
The Schoolers also have a long list of successful division two and NAIA players as well. The influence of the Schoolers is widespread as they've had Larson and Miller in the southeast, Cedric Lang in the southwest at UTEP, Finley out east at Princeton, Willard at Pacific out west, and of course numerous talents in the Midwest.
There are Schoolers in the NFL as well as linebacker Chad Greenway donned the navy blue in 2000.
On the front page of the Schoolers website you will see a photo of Conrad Adam, a Schooler holding up a piece of a championship net. Underneath that picture is an icon labeled “Conrad's Clan”.
“A guy from our program that overcome adversity of Conrad Adam,” Paul said. “Conrad had cancer two years ago. He lost his leg, and was at the same high school as Zach Hanson and Lane Severyn (now at SDSU), he played Pierre.
“He graduated two years ago in 2013. He didn't play in 2012 as the last basketball he played was the summer after his sophomore year. They found cancer in Conrad's leg that summer and amputated his leg.
“The way the state rallied around him and the way our program was able to help them with the fundraiser we did, and the way that happened was pretty inspirational. The whole state rallied around him no matter where they played people supported him. To see him respond the way he was was incredible.”
Conrad continues to win the fight today inspiring all with his courage.
The top Schooler victory was Conrad Adam defeating cancer. Seville has seen his program have some other big moments as a team in the first years of the program through last summer.
“In 1993 we finished in the top 16 of the AAU nationals and that was truly special because back then you had to win your win your way to the nationals and then win your way to the top 16.”
The 93 team included future Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupal, Jeff Rich, Travis Traphgaen (has coached at several D1 schools), and others.
“In 1997 we won the A Division at the Big Time Tournament and what made that so interesting was that the teams in our division were DC Assault, Ohio Basketball Club, and Emerald City (all longtime national powers) and we finished third in our pool. DC won the open division, we won the A division, and Emerald City won the B division. All the champions came from one pool, our pool. That never happened again as they changed the format.”
That 97 team included Miller, Rich, David Laqua (played at Hawaii-Hilo), Austin Hanson (coaches at USD), Brett Nelson (played at Florida), and several others.
“Last summer we won the Kansas City event and that was special and winning the Sanford Pentagon Series was a signature victory for our club,' said Seville.
“Over the years we've beaten some teams weren't supposed to because they had all the future D1 kids and we had a bunch of kids from South Dakota. That's the signature of our program as the way we play, we have a fighting chance to beat anybody.”
That 2014 Schoolers were led by future North Dakota State Bison Deng Geu and Minnesota State-Moorhead signed Addison Park.
Facing the Best
When you compete against the best you run into some of the best. In fact, of the six leading scorers in the NBA this year, the Dakota Schoolers have played against three of them. It's the competition that drives Seville and the Schoolers.
“The kid from Oklahoma, Blake Griffin,” said Seville. “He's the best player we've ever went up against. Blake put up some massive numbers against us. Either him or Monta Ellis who dropped some big numbers on us. He was pretty good then, and now. Anthony Davis is another stud that we faced and was difficult to deal with.”
The Schoolers have played some of the best teams in the nation but they have seen some more than others giving them a few arrivals in the area.
“Back through the years the Howard Pulley Panthers have been a great rivalry for us,” Seville said. “We haven't played them in a long time because of the nature of their EYBL schedule now but before they were EYBL (a Nike league that schedules Pulley five weekends a year) we had some great battles. There is mutual respect there from both sides.
“With the Sanford Pentagon Series has brought some new rivals like the Omaha Crusaders, Minnesota Fury and the Minnesota Comets. That is developing now into more of a rivalry although the league is only in its third year.”
Another team that the Schoolers have played often is from Kansas City. LJ Goolsby's program has changed from KC Pump N Run to KC Run GMC but they are still a rival to the Schoolers.
“We have played LJ's team from Kansas City a ton,” said Seville. “We have a great respect for them and we've had some great games against that team. We haven't been very successful against them but we have played them hard. Taken some lumps too.”
The Sanford Pentagon Tournament Series
The SPTS was introduced in 2013 and has been a wonderful league for the 14 teams that have been fortunate enough to compete in it at the 15U, 16U, and 17U age levels. Three weekends a year the teams compete in league games (once in April in Minnesota, once in Omaha in April, and the championships are in Sioux Falls in July).
“I think the league has been great so it's not so repetitive playing the same teams at every event,” Paul stated. “It's nice to go to a set league against teams who you know you will be competing against and you know the amount of games you are going to play.
“It's a fun and competitive league and it's giving guys something to shoot for outside of the regular weekend long tournament. It's something different to set goals for. Guys look forward to the July event as they are trying to win a title over the span of three weekend events as opposed to just one.”
At the moment the Dakota Schoolers 15U team is in third place in the SPTS with an 8-2 record heading into July. They will play three more league games at the Sanford Pentagon and then likely qualify for the eight team championship bracket.
The Schooler program has two teams in the 17U division coached by Kent Mueller and then by Matt Daly. The Mueller team is 6-4 in league play and in 6th place. The leader in the 17U division is another top notch program in the league, the Omaha Crusaders.
What is a Dakota Schooler?
“If you are a Dakota Schooler I believe you have a strong desire to improve yourself as a basketball player,” said Coach Seville.
The Dakota Schoolers are the best of the best and it's tough to deny that. There are other programs in South Dakota that do a nice job and have some good players of course, but when PHD opened up the site in late December of 2014 even coaches from other programs in South Dakota told us “the Schoolers have all the top players”
Kids that play for the Schoolers have strong motives for playing.
“There are kids that want to be better high school players, some of them just want to play for the love of the game, and some of them are going on to the next level of basketball and are having great careers,” said Seville.
“We've also had our fair share of great football players that didn't play basketball after high school like Chad Greenway, Josh Heupal, and guys like that come to mind. Brian Alderson had a very successful career playing football at South Dakota State.
“(The Dakota Schoolers) look for a high quality athlete but also somebody that has a desire to get better.”
25 Years and Counting
The Schoolers started out as a middle school travel summer team and have morphed into a known brand. Paul Seville has gone from a one time summer coach to a professional in the basketball industry. So where do the hoops love come from Paul?
“I dont know,” Seville said with a laugh. “It was an acquired taste I guess. I got cut as a sophomore in high school and started coaching a 5th grade traveling team back at the YMCA in Aberdeen back in those days.
“In 1991 I never envisioned doing it this long but it's parlayed into a full time position at the Pentagon which is nice (Paul is the Sanford Pentagon Events Manager). Never thought that I would be working at a basketball/events center but that is one of the perks of doing what I do.”
The early trips to Chicago, to Las Vegas, alter to Minnesota and Kansas City, the event championships, the numerous players that have went on from the Schoolers to receive basketball scholarships, the different triumphs and the different tragedies, now the Sanford Pentagon Tournament Series and the Sanford Pentagon, all of it started with an eighth grade team so a father could watch his son.
Here we are 25 years later and the Dakota Schoolers are a program full of sons, and daughters, that continue to reach success. Paul Seville started out as a middle school coach and now he's running events. The Dakota Schoolers started out as a one time summer team and now they are one of the best in the Midwest.
And they are just getting started.