Dufault, others find chances at camps
WAHPETON -- Three hundred miles from his home in Killdeer, 6-foot-8 Austin Dufault was lacing up his shoes to play basketball Friday morning. "Without this, I would probably be playing some ball back home," Dufault said in the main arena of the N...
WAHPETON -- Three hundred miles from his home in Killdeer, 6-foot-8 Austin Dufault was lacing up his shoes to play basketball Friday morning.
"Without this, I would probably be playing some ball back home," Dufault said in the main arena of the North Dakota State College of Science Activities Center. "And the games wouldn't be nearly as competitive."
Dufault was referring to this weekend's Third Annual Dakota Hoopfest, a tournament that attracted 30 16- to 17-year-old boys and girls teams from North and South Dakota, Omaha, Neb., and the Twin Cities.
The tournament also attracted college coaches from area schools like Augustana, Mary, Jamestown, Valley City State, Northern State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State University Moorhead - all looking for what one coach described as "diamonds in the rough."
For players like Dufault, it was a chance to show recruiters what they can do against competition they won't face during the high school season. Dufault, a Class B first-team all-state guard, is playing on one of the 17 teams sponsored by ECI Youth Services of Wahpeton. The nonprofit organization, which sponsors after-school programs and a coffee house for youth, has been in the basketball business for the last three years.
It's the brainchild of Dan Hodgson, director of ECI - which stands for "Every Child's Important." The ECI basketball program has grown into sponsoring 12 boys teams and five girls teams comprised of selected players from North and South Dakota and west central Minnesota.
"We realized the environment was out there yet a lot of players from this region weren't getting exposed," Hodgson said.
"The majority of these kids playing today are going to find out they're not going to play for Duke.
"But just playing here and playing hard may prove beneficial for them. The challenge for them is to play against some of the best so they can earn a spot somewhere."
The cost for players ranges from $650 to $1,150 to play in tournaments in cities like Minneapolis, Omaha, Indianapolis, Louisville and Las Vegas. Hodgson said the goal is to break even someday by hosting more tournaments like the one that will wrap up today.
The players' fees help pay for ECI basketball director Travis Kraft, a former Mayville-Portland standout who played college ball at South Carolina and North Dakota State.
The 26-year-old Kraft said the biggest challenge is coordinating the schedules of nearly 200 players from four different regions.
"It's always fun when you see these lists of names and you finally get to see what they look like and how they can play," Kraft said. "If a kid has one good game at one of these tournaments and gets seen, all of a sudden, they are getting recruited by a bunch of colleges."
The players' fees also help pay for the coaches - most of whom are college assistants from NAIA schools like Jamestown, Valley City State, Mayville State and Minot State.
NAIA rules are less stringent than NCAA rules, allowing assistants to coach high school kids they may end up recruiting.
"That's what really makes this program ... our teams are getting good coaching," Kraft said. "Plus, it's a perfect fit for younger coaches who are trying to work their way up the profession."
Tyler Bormann, an assistant at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton High School for three years, coached an ECI team last summer. Friday, he was sitting in the bleachers recruiting as a graduate assistant coach for Augustana College in Sioux Falls.
"It (ECI) gave me a look at a different level of play, plus I learned quickly that off the court you have to be very organized," Bormann said. "In this area, Dan saw a need and put it into motion.
"There isn't a college or university in this region that couldn't benefit from attending this tournament."
But as Hodgson emphasized, the benefit is aimed for players like Dufault - who plans to spend the rest of his summer playing basketball in Sioux Falls, Louisville, Indianapolis and Las Vegas.
"This has helped improve my game a lot ... it's just better competition," said Dufault, in his third summer of playing with an ECI team. "When you go back to Class B (high school) ball, it slows the game down so much. It makes it a lot easier."
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