2012-12-19 / Sports


Not just a basketball tournament, 36th Lakota Nation Invitational is a family reunion, a holiday high school extravaganza
By Tom Crash
Times Correspondent

Four day celebration brings people together from on & off the res

RAPID CITY – The 36th annual Lakota Nation Invitational opens Wednesday, December 19 with boys basketball in the ice rink arena and girls basketball in the main arena; that’s just the opening events, over the four day high school extravaganza, there is a school pow wow on Wednesday and competitions in knowledge, Lakota language, art, cheerleading, hand games, archery, wrestling, color guards and entrepreneurship along with an art exhibit, public service awards and an honoring of Vietnam vets.

“Sure there are many of the same things but every year we see new people join the LNI family and we’re always looking at the possibilities of adding new events-we really want to do a rodeo at the Central States Fairgrounds, we’re going to bring back boxing again and we keep hearing about doing a chess competition as well” said Bryan Brewer, long time executive director of the LNI and newly elected president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, “LNI is like a big family reunion, there’s a lot of respect for each other and offers a great opportunity to renew friendships and build relationships.”

In previous years, Hulk Hogan, George Murasan and Bill Russell attended the LNI; two years ago, Native golfer Notah Begay spoke at the SD Gear Up panel discussion so who knows who will be there this year.

“LNI is a huge deal, I grew up around the reservation community and everyone looks forward to the event,” said Rob Cox who coached several years at Oelrichs where he worked hard to get the school into the LNI and now is the head coach at Todd County, “to be part of LNI is an honor.”

“LNI has a culture all its own, participation in the LNI is great for our school, sure its basketball but it’s a knowledge bowl, art show, hand games, Lakota language competition, it’s a chance for our students to interact, make new relationships, last year when the school board questioned the value of participating in LNI, the turnout of parents and community members was outstanding” said Eldon Marshall, head boys coach at White River and athletic director who has won three of the five LNI tournaments that White River has participated in, “as a coach, we look forward to it as well, you see other basketball teams and have a chance to re-connect with great coaches like Larry Luitjens, Dusty LeBeau or Jess Mendoza and the competition is great, competition only makes you better.”

In the boys tournament, White River won their third title in five years and used the momentum to go back to their fifth straight State B championship game, winning their third State B championship in five years. White River has been in the LNI five years, they took second in 2007, first in both 2008 and 2009, seventh in 2010 and first last year. This year, the coaches who gathered in Rapid City on September 29 picked the Tigers as the number one seed, Pine Ridge two, Cheyenne Eagle Butte three and Custer four.

“We are looking for ways to improve every game, whether its playing the #16 seed in the LNI or the championship game, we have a mature, experienced team who understands what’s expected of them, they are leaders and this helps to build consistency from one game to the next,” said Marshall who coached his team to a 25-1 record, losing only to St. Thomas More, the two time defending State A champs, “size will be our biggest weakness, we lost Cody Young and Logan Tucker to graduation and Bubba Young and Justin Folkers to injury; two time all state Wyatt Krogman will guide the team on the floor, Nic Waln is back as two guard as well as Matt Gillen and Tavis Burbank on the boards and Joe Cameron who can shoot and defend – off the bench we’ll see Gilbert Morrison, Tre Iyotte, Casey Rogers, Vinny Charging Hawk and Justin Prue.”

Half of the Tigers schedule is made up of the LNI, the Jones County Invitational and classics including Hansen, Dakota Wesleyan and the Mike Miller Classic. We want the team to make every shot on offense and don’t let their opponbents get uncontested shots on defense, added Marshall, but the bottom line is we are looking to improve and get better every game.

Larry Luitjens and Custer lost their best player, Chad Bryant to graduation but the coach feels his Wildcats will be in the mix. Red Cloud has a new coach, Christian McGhee and he will have the Crusaders competitive. Todd County, under new head coach, Rob Cox, comes in 2-0 and looking to surprise any team they play. Jeff LeBeau, a 6’5” junior post player helped Pine Ridge earn the #2 seed; it may take us a while to gel as we replace the seniors that graduated but by the end of the year, we’ll be ready, added long time coach, Dusty LeBeau.

“This will be my 31st LNI as a human being,” sai9d Rob Mendoza who is in his second year as Cheyenne Eagle Butte head coach, “the tournament is such a great time, a special atmosphere – there’s something about large events where you always find the time to visit with all of those people you want to; its an honor for our team and school to participate in the LNI.”

Mendoza feels that he might have the tallest team in the tournament; he’ll start 6’3” junior Cray Allen, 6’3” junior Xavier Norris, 6’3” junior Wyatt Knight, 6’4” junior Kasten Carter and 6’7” junior Derrick Morrow. We have to figure out how to utilize our size and how best to get our scorers in the mix and we need to control the tempo, concluded Mendoza.

On the girls side, Pine Ridge went to state last year after losing to three time defending LNI champs CEB 46-41 in the LNI championship game; the Lady Thorpes are the #1 seed – losing only one senior, Sharay Brewer to graduation and adding two time all state guard JoJo Sazue who transferred from Crow Creek.

“The girls are really looking forward to LNI, its always so big – even my two daughters are excited about LNI and they’re just one and two and a half,” said Laura Big Crow who played in LNI when she was in high school and looks forward to the challenges this year, “we still have a lot of improving to do, we’re working on improving every day and after the tournament we’ll know even more on what we need to do to get ready for the postseason.”

Pine Ridge has won 11 of the 28 girls LNI tournaments that have taken place; Red Cloud and Todd County have each won five. Pine Ridge was picked as the number one seed this year. Three time defending champs, CEB is #2 while Crow Creek is #3, Little Wound is #4 and Todd County is #5.

Amanda Carlow is in her first year as head coach at Red Cloud – we’ll get better as the season goes along, we have experienced players but we’re implementing a new system on both offense vand defense but we’ll get there, concluded Carlow.

After honoring Native women vets last year, LNI is set to honor Vietnam era vets on Friday with a special honoring around 5pm and their involvement in the grand entry that follows.

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