Mike Miller and Becky Hammon — South Dakota’s most accomplished basketball players — went through the old routine. After emphatic senior seasons, each was awarded
“First Five” player of the year honors.
Both then went on to do great big things, all while shining a spotlight on their home state. But neither was given the kind of fanfare worthy of being named South Dakota’s best high school players.
This year that’s changing. Argus Leader Media — working with the Sanford Pentagon — is adding some shine to the prestigious First Five award with a weekend of events that put the state’s best under one roof.
The Argus Leader/Sanford Pentagon First Five banquet is 7 p.m. Saturday at Heritage Court. There, we’ll unveil the First Five and Second Five honorees and South Dakota players of the year. On Sunday, the same court will play host to girls and boys all-star games for the state’s top senior players.
My first season covering high school basketball has been eventful. They say those that can’t do, teach. Well I no longer have a stomach for the classroom, so I just watched, and at moments I’d have to pause and remind myself that the high-flying dunks, sailing 3-pointers and 360-degree pirouette layups came from 17-year olds and not adults.
It’s those elements of high school hoops that never change. Sure, words such as “Snapchat” now are part of the modern lexicon, but families and fans across the state still pack tight into high school gyms and their wooden, fold-out bleachers — transforming weeknights in February and March into star-studded affairs.
Standing in awe of great high school athletes is a tradition. It’s time to make honoring those athletes a tradition as well.
On Saturday, South Dakota’s top high school basketball players will get the recognition they deserve. The end of year ceremony is meant to flip the script a bit, and bring some excitement to the players who brought so much to crowds during the regular season, playoffs and state tournaments.
Sen. John Thune — who knows a little something about playing high school high school basketball — even will be on stage to dole out the honors.
In the old days, the First Five’s “envelope, please” moment came with picking up a copy of the newspaper. It’s a tradition that Argus Leader Media started in 1979, and despite its success — like that accompanying the Elite 45 gridiron honor — a change was needed.
The banquet will serve not only as the culmination of — for seniors — a great high school career, but also the work and hair-splitting that went into whittling down the list of candidates to pairs of five.
Of course, the number of standout players in the state far exceeds 20, so South Dakota’s all-state players will also be recognized during the event.
In other words, if you’re an important person in South Dakota high school hoops, Heritage Court is the place to be.
The First Five never has been a small thing, because being named one of the best players in South Dakota is a big deal.
Hammon and Miller, the state’s ultimate hardcourt ambassadors, got a taste of that. And now, there’s an appropriate stage to match the honor.