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By Kerry Rodd
Sports Pine Knot News 

Thunder basketball teams aim high


November 30, 2018

Photo by Tom Urbanski

Thunder men's coach Brian Burtnyk works with players.

After a one-year hiatus the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College women's basketball team returns under first-year coach Robert Smith while the Thunder men look to improve on a 5-14 record under coach Brian Burtnyk.

The Thunder men's team struggled last season, but the good news is that four players return from last year's team and they have added a trio of players, two from Florida and one from Texas.

"We had two scrimmages against Salo's Showcase, which was a great experience for us," Coach Burtnyk said. "They are former college players who have gone through the grind of college basketball and know how to play the game the right way. It really helped us see what we were good at and in what areas we needed the most improvement."

Back this season are Dijuan McCullom of Chicago, Ill.; Donta Jones from Covington, Ga.; Eric Grant of Columbus, Ohio; and Dwayne Sanders from Wilmington, Del.

New to the squad are Kevin Bryant and Antonio Morrell of Florida and Texan Roderick Washington.

"We played our first game already and lost to Crown College's junior varsity 82-72," Burtnyk said. "The guys played hard and I was really happy with our effort. We struggled with a lot of little things defensively that we need to clean up for the future. It was a game that got away from us, but overall the guys played well."

Leading the charge for the Thunder in the scoring column was Bryant, with 25 points. Antonio Morrell added 19, it was 17 points for Jones, and Washington chipped in with 12 rebounds and four points.

"Our main goal is to make the conference playoffs," Burtnyk said. "Fond du Lac has never made it to the conference tournament before. Once you're in a win-or-go-home tournament anything can happen."

The Thunder will look to play a fast-paced game and try to control the tempo, Burtnyk said.

"We have a lot of good athletes on our team this year that like to run, but we need to be able to control the pace of every game we play," he said. "If we want to play fast we can go fast. If we need to slow things down we can do that also. We're a gritty team that is going to play extremely hard. We just need to focus on getting better every day. We need to play hard, but also play smart."


A year ago the Thunder women did not field a team - this year, Robert Smith is expecting his recruiting connections will play in the Thunder's favor.

"All the players we have are new," Smith said. "I didn't get the job until late September so I did not have time to recruit any local high schools or bring anybody in. The ladies we have on the roster were all already enrolled in the school."

That has not deterred Smith, who said he is in for the long haul and is hoping to build a team for the future.

"We have eight players and about half of them have high school playing experience this year," Smith said. "The others also have a love of the game and are willing to come out and try to help us have a team so that we can build our program back up again."

Just a couple of weeks after being hired, Smith and his team hit the court for practice and they played their first game Nov. 16, losing to Lake Superior College 76-27 at home in Cloquet.

"We understand where we are right now, but we just want to see our team getting better day in and day out," Smith said. "We have definitely seen gains already with our team. To be honest, the day before our first game was the first time I had six of our players together all at once, and the day of the game was the first time I had our entire team together as a group. In community college there are classes and work schedules that come first quite often, so it has been a challenge, but we're up for it."

As the season unfolds Smith remains in recruiting mode by contacting players at area schools, most specifically Fond du Lac Ojibwe School as well as getting ready to set up a pipeline to coaches and teams he knows in the Twin Cities area.

"I'll for sure be reaching out to everyone I can," Smith said. "We want to build something special here, but it will take a lot of effort."


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