Melissa Austin's 12-U Sacred Hoops squad plays Beautiful basketball

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Melissa Austin’s Sacred Hoops 12-U squad won the Championship of the (Jam on It) tournament in Salt Lake City

By Rich Winter

Early in the championship game, Sacred Hoops 12-U player Ryan Heinert caught a pass on the right wing. Standing 23-feet away, Heinert didn’t hesitate, he caught and launched - Nothing but Net. Melissa Austin’s 12-U, West-River Sacred Hoops team was playing a squad from Calgary/Alberta (Canada).

Moments later, a mom from the Canadian team sat down in the row of chairs to watch and her husband whispered, “These guys are really good.”

Sitting there taking pictures and some video of this squad, a woman from Lehi Utah (20 miles south of Salt Lake City) leaned over and asked me if I was with this Sacred Hoops team? She had a boy playing in the 12-U division, and although her boys team didn’t make the championship game, the family from Lehi attended the SHIP just so they could see the Sacred Hoops team play one more time.

Where are they from - South Dakota

Are they a team of All-Stars - No, just some kids from Spearfish and St. Thomas More (mostly) that teamed up to play this summer

“I have never seen a group of kids play so hard,” the woman said. “The way they pass the ball is really fun to watch.”

And that folks is the kind of impression Melissa Anderson’s squad left on a Salt Lake City tournament featuring teams from Canada, Australia, California and every state that surrounds Utah. They didn’t just win the tournament, they dominated it, beating every opponent by at least 20 points.

In addition to winning every game, the Sacred Hoops kids played the game the right way.

  • Leading by 25 in the championship game with just a few minutes left on the clock, Sacred Hoops kids were still diving on the floor.

  • During the entire tournament, every time an opponent got knocked down, a Sacred Hoops player offered a hand to help their opponent up.

  • During the championship game, two players from the opposing team suffered injuries that kept the players down for a bit. Both times, the Sacred Hoops kids clapped and patted the kids on the back in a terrific show of sportsmanship.

For me personally, living in Salt Lake City, I was thrilled to see a team from western South Dakota competing here. Just wanted to share some thoughts on these amazing young men.

  • Took me all of about ten seconds to realize that Melissa Austin is a great coach. Wow, is she intense, but the players THRIVE under her intensity. There were times when a player made a mistake that she took them out of the game, talked about what had happened, and then immediately sent those kids back into the game. Never negative, Austin had these guys playing the best basketball of their young lives.

  • Have never seen a team of 12-U kids pass the way these kids did: Quite impressed with how this team ran their offense, and even more impressed how they shared the ball. Smaller guys knew exactly how to get it into the bigger guys, and the bigger guys rewarded the smaller guys by hitting them with precision passes as the guys were cutting to the hoop.

  • The defense was stifling: Second game of the tournament, a team tried to press the Sacred Hoops squad. That team found some success with the press and cut a second-half lead to under ten points. Following a timeout from Austin, the Sacred Hoops kids showed their own press and by the end of the game they had a 30-point lead.

  • Game three: The Sacred Hoops kids scored 81 points (Who does that, especially with a team of 12-year olds.

  • Every kid on this team is talented: Every one of these kids can shoot it. Every one of these kids can slash to the hoop. Several of the boys already have well developed left-hands.

Really interesting getting to know some of the Sacred Hoops parents and grandparents that accompanied this team on the trip. Declan Duffy (of the St. Thomas more Duffy’s) mom and dad were there. Learned that Dan Duffy helped Stanley County to the state basketball tournament in 1978…the first time the Buffaloes had ever made the state tournament. Kaelem Brooks’s father, originally from Colorado ran track and played CB for Black Hills State. Brooks’ step-father is Steve Anderson, a University of South Dakota great who graduated just before USD transitioned to Division 1. One of the mom’s coaches both boys and girls junior high basketball, I believe in Spearfish. A grandmother from Medicine Bow Wyoming made the trip. A couple of grandfathers in the crowd with coaching experience and a lot of basketball tradition.

Will be interesting to follow these kids as they move on to Jr. High and then high-school….Look out for St. Thomas More and Spearfish in about six years.