Basketball academy works to address recruiting challenges
By BRIAN HAENCHEN
Aug. 20, 2018
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Alejandro Rama will be playing college basketball next season.
The 6-foot-1-inch guard used 2017-18 as his coming-out party, averaging 22 points while leading Red Cloud to the Class A state tournament as a junior and earning second team all-state honors. Factor in Rama's academics and community service, and you have the profile of a well-rounded college recruit.
But as an athlete coming from the reservation, that alone is not enough to get recruited.
Most college coaches are unlikely to visit the reservation, meaning it's up to the players to get themselves on the recruiting radar.
The best way to get noticed? Summer AAU-style basketball, which involves playing tournaments on all-star teams in front of coaches looking for talent.
"That's how you get exposure," Rama told The Argus Leader . "You're going to the coaches and playing against tough competition. It's helped me become a better player, too."
Getting on an AAU team has done wonders for Rama, who has also taken advantage of specific skill camps and training sessions to elevate his game. However, almost none of these opportunities have been offered on the reservation.
This discrepancy in opportunity served as inspiration for Sacred Hoops Basketball Academy.
"We really wanted to be able to provide opportunities for kids who maybe don't have the same opportunities as kids coming from other areas," program founder Allan Bertram said. "The goal was to get as many kids involved in a program that was really going to be about developing them as players and as people."
Bertram's desire to give back was partly inspired by his time coaching on the Rosebud reservation, where he realized just how much of an impact a simple game could have on people's lives. As he got older, he gained a greater appreciation for those who helped him throughout his career and began looking for ways to pay it forward.
That's how Sacred Hoops was born.
It began as an ambitious proposal discussed over the years among Bertram, Red Cloud coach Matt Rama (Alejandro Rama's father) and White River athletic director and boys basketball coach Eldon Marshall.
Bertram admits it seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream when they were younger, but earlier this year, he decided to go for it.
"It's like, if we don't start doing something now, it's going to get to a point where we're too old to do something," he explained. "We just kind of came to a recognition that it's either now or never."
Bertram said Sacred Hoops had 32 teams with 310 players in its first season. By comparison, South Dakota's other top clubs (Venom, Attack, Bartlett Academy, Pentagon and Network) average out to 15 teams apiece (Bartlett has 21). Additionally, Sacred Hoops ran 141 high school program workouts, many of which were on the reservation.
In terms of Native American participation, the boys' teams included six players from three different reservations, with high schools from Pine Ridge (Red Cloud, Little Wound), Rosebud (Todd County) and Cheyenne River (Timber Lake).
On the girls' side, the top 10 high school players from each age group were selected to form four all-Native teams. Thanks to fundraising efforts, these teams' expenses were covered entirely by outside funding.
While the exposure from Sacred Hoops doesn't necessarily guarantee a college basketball career, it does provide inspiration for young athletes, who would not have otherwise had the opportunity to play in front of college coaches.
"I've been rewarded more from the game in the last three months than I have in the last 20 years," said Bertram. "It means so much to be able to see kids who never thought college was even an opportunity now have a smile on their face because they really, truly believe they can go do it, go play something that they really love."
Sacred Hoops is part of a greater overall movement to provide more opportunities for athletes on the reservation.
At the grassroots level, the rise of high school athletes like Rama has bolstered the push, providing a strong role model for younger generations as they see him succeed.
"It helps the youth here, because they can see that process and how hard he works," McGhee explained. "They think, 'OK, I can do that. I have a chance.' Because sometimes being Native American, the kids don't feel that way."
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com