By Rich Winter
After just missing the Class A state tournament in 2017, Clark/ Willow Lake coach Jerome Nesheim’s Cyclones were moved to Class B for the 2017-2018 season. Returning all five starters from a 19-3 squad, and moving down in classification it was almost assumed the Cyclones would have a great season.
The move down forced a lot of expectations and with those expectations came pressure. While the Cyclones were in the B ranks they played an A schedule and that A schedule toughened up Nesheim’s squad for a deep run in the state tournament.
“We got beat out early by George-Little Rock of Iowa and then lost to Sioux Falls Christian on Jan. 27,” Nesheim said. “SFC was a great game for us and playing those types of teams made us better.”
Better is a word that is used quite a lot at Clark/Willow Lake. The word isn’t tossed about lightly though, and better comes with a lot of help from the community and the former players.
When Nesheim first arrived at Clark following his graduation from Dakota Wesleyan he began his teaching and coaching career. While Clark has a history of tremendous high school athletes (Gene Lorenz 1982) when Nesheim arrived, tradition and community support weren’t at their peak.
“The early years were kind of a struggle,” Nesheim said.
Struggle or not, the Cyclones boys and girls coach (at the time) spoke to a group in Clark and helped breathe some fire into the community.
“I told them my whole goal was that when people talk about basketball in South Dakota that Clark is in the conversation,” he said. “The whole goal was to get kids to play hard and leave with no regrets.”
In the late 1990’s Custer and Lennox were the powers in Class A and Nesheim hoped to be in that stratosphere.
“We’ve had a lot of success in the last 15 years with getting to the state tournament,” he said. “We lost to Chester in the state championship game in 2004 and then to St. Thomas More in 2006.”
During Nesheim’s tenure some terrific players have come from Clark/Willow Lake. Those athletes often come back and speak to the current crop of athletes. Guys like Derek Brown and Skyler Flatten (and others) coming back to work with, and speak to kids happens with regularity.
“They have a lot of impact,” Nesheim said. “The former players are always talking to the kids about not being that group that struggles or falls below .500. The kids look up to Skyler (SDSU player who just completed his senior year) and he’s such a good guy our kids want to be like him and its just a factor with the program.”
While former players help with the motivation, the community has helped immeasurably. The gym in Clark is open EVERY day with kids being allowed to come in and play.
“That’s a huge plus for me that my Administration and Community help make this happen,” Nesheim said. “Dan Whalen works with the kids in the program every day and gets the kids to Watertown for agility drills.”
This summer, Nesheim is working with the Barn-Burner 16-U team. With just three guys on that squad having significant varsity experience, Coach is maximizing every opportunity to get his summer kids ready for varsity ball. ‘Game-Situation’ moments are taught at every practice. The goal is to put the kids in situations they might see at a varsity level so they are mentally prepared to play at a higher level this winter.
While there have been practices and several AAU tournaments (two more on the summer schedule), Nesheim says he’s had just one goal with the Barn-Burner squad.
“Our goal this summer is to get in their minds they have to play hard on every possession,” he said.
While Nesheim is coming off a Class B state runner-up finish this summer he’s working with just one Cyclone player, Stone Burke. The rest of his players, Hunter Thorpe (Ellendale, North Dakota), Nick Wittler (Sully Buttes), Quinn Jordre (Sully Buttes), Tyler Schumacher (Miller), Zach Clemens (Northwestern), Colton Hanson (Aberdeen Central) and Dawson Phfister (Aberdeen Central), are discovering each other on a new level.
“I think it really helps to meet and see kids from Class B that meet kids from Class AA. “We’re all the same, we all put our pants on the same way and the AA kids want to learn and get better just like Class B or Class A kids.”
With just two AAU tournaments remaining, Sioux Falls and Kansas City, Nesheim is excited to expose his kids to some big-time basketball in the coming weeks.
“It is so good for kids to go down to places like Kansas City,” Nesheim said. “That type to competition challenges kids and forces them to play at a higher level and ultimately to get better.”
As the school year approaches Nesheim is gearing up for another busy year. The Viborg graduate teaches Business Education, Personal Finance, Psychology, Sociology and is an assistant on Joel Huber’s 9AA football team that opens their season against Florence-Henry in about 30 days.
For just over 20 years Nesheim continually advocates the importance of the classroom and being a good person.
“At the high school level the basketball court is actually an extension of the classroom,” he said. “How you treat kids that are less fortunate than you is character building and something we talk about a lot.”
One to Watch – Clark/Willow Lake senor Jacob Prouty
First-team Class B All-State player in 2018 with averages of 20.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 3.7 apg.