AREA BASKETBALL: Creating Stars on and off the basketball court

“When my sons first thought about playing AAU basketball as 14-year olds, I was not overly excited about the idea. I worried about injuries, I had witnessed how some programs were run and I wanted the boys to be well-balanced individuals.”

Those were comments made by Jeff Hansen of Tyler. His sons Cooper and Carter wanted to join the local AAU basketball program to meet knew people and see how they matched up at a higher level. Hansen was hesitant at first.

AAU basketball has earned a negative reputation all across the country, thanks in part to traits like poor coaching and athlete egos that are prevalent on other teams. The Southwest Minnesota Stars, based in Marshall, try to do things differently.

“As a program, our goal to create a positive experience for all our players and families by integrating Christian values, playing team basketball, expecting a high level of sportsmanship, providing an organized schedule, communicating clear expectations, and being a class act in the way we handle ourselves on and off the basketball floor,” Southwest Minnesota Stars director Ryan Reitsma said. “We seek to emphasize a high level of character and integrity which is hopefully interwoven into the fabric of all aspects in how we operate our program and coach our players.”
There are four different teams within the Stars program, from 17s (incoming seniors) all the way down to 14s (incoming freshmen). The coaching experience ranges from one to three years of high school coaching to the current director of basketball operations for the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League.

The 16s and 17s play in eight tournaments, with the last tournament of the season for both teams beginning today in Kansas City.

Limiting the teams to just eight tournaments in a season is a move that’s intentional by the Stars directors to not overload the players, as well as only attending tournaments closer to home.

“In running this program for eight-plus years, we have never seen the basketball development or recruitment of players significantly benefited by playing in more than eight tournaments,” Reitsma said. “We have also found that staying in the Midwest for our tournaments to be the most beneficial to our players in our region as very few kids attend college for four years outside of the Midwest.”

Earlier this summer, the Stars also hosted the Drake Bigler Memorial Invite, which brought 30 teams to Marshall from high schools across southwestern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota and northwestern Iowa.

With the program based in Marshall, there are a lot of area standouts who have worked their way through the Stars system. One of the more recent alumni is 2016 Murray County Central graduate Grant Rohrer.

“AAU helped me become a better high school player because of the fast pace and how much more physical it is,” Rohrer said. “I know that I wouldn’t have had the success that I did in high school if I wouldn’t have played for the Stars.”

Rohrer averaged 23.8 points and 14.6 rebounds per game as a senior for the Rebels. This winter, he will continue his basketball career at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.

Two of the players on this year’s 17s roster are Zach Bloemker (Marshall) and Spencer Smith (Tracy-Milroy-Balaton).

“Zach plays extremely hard with the ability to make perimeter shots and put pressure on the defense with his ability to drive,” Reitsma said. “Spencer is quite athletic and has the ability to score in a variety of ways for this team.”

Last weekend, the Stars’ 16s team drew high praise from Ryan James of Northstar Hoops Report, who is considered one of the top recruiting resources in Minnesota. He tweeted: “Love the fight in this @SWMNStars 16s. OD Othow (Worthington) is an active rebounder and smart passer, Marcus Boyd is a promising talent too.”

Trey Lance (Marshall) and Anthony Ross (Westbrook-Walnut Grove) are the two area athletes on the 16s.

The 15s have seven area athletes on the roster, including Bentley Boike (Dawson-Boyd), Matt Onken and Bryce Paulsen (Marshall) and Carter and Cooper Hansen (Russell-Tyler-Ruthton).

The Hansens’ father, Jeff, is one of the coaches for the 15s. While he initially had reservations about letting his sons join the Stars, his fears quickly went away.

“I have seen many programs that focus solely on winning and have selfish ballplayers,” Hansen said. “The group that my sons are a part of are incredibly unselfish, great teammates, and have become wonderful friends. The Stars programs look to be competitive, but also focus on the whole individual. It is an environment that supports the players as young men, not just a basketball player.”

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