DE SMET, S.D. (KELO) — The De Smet boys basketball team has won back-to-back class ‘B’ state championships. This year, the Bulldogs are off to a 2-0 start, despite only returning two seniors.
De Smet cruised past Lower Brule, 49-26 in last year’s state championship, capping off a 25-1 season for the Bulldogs. But as De Smet prepares for this season, they’ll be without three starters, including last year’s KELOLAND Media Group Player of the Year, Kalen Garry.
“They were a really big role on last year’s team, obviously. They’ll be missed. I love those guys, but I took really great leadership from them on how they led the team, to be so successful,” De Smet center Damon Wilkinson said.
“It’s going to be tough shoes to fill, but our younger guys coming in this year have been playing against those guys for three years now,” head coach Jeff Gruenhagen said. “I think that’s taught them a lot. Their JV schedule was pretty tough last year and they didn’t lose very many games over the past few seasons and those guys got some good varsity minutes.”
The absence is noticeable in practice, as the leadership is missing from last year’s five seniors.
“We had those guys that led everything and made sure the effort was getting done. That’s where we’re finding that now, the seniors this year are finding their role of being a little more vocal and taking that on,” Gruenhagen said.
De Smet returns two starters, including 6’10 center, Damon Wilkinson, who has established himself as one of the top bigs in the state.
“He’ll have to be more of a leader this year and he played so well down the stretch last year and in the state tournament,” Gruenhagen said. “He’s going to have to pick that up and they’re going to pay more attention to him now that we’ve lost our leading scorer, but Damon wasn’t far behind.”
The defense should look the same, but the biggest change will be on offense as the Bulldogs work through their big man.
“Now we’re going to be more post oriented. We just graduated a lot of our offense, so I think that’s where the question marks are. I’m confident that our guys can come out and play defense and rebound. We’ve got a lot of long guys, so we’ll try to come out and play that intense man-to-man,” Gruenhagen said.
The Bulldogs opened the season with wins over Deubrook Area and Dell Rapids St. Mary. They’ll return to the floor on New Year’s Eve when they meet Sioux Valley.