For University of South Dakota basketball alumni and basketball fans in Rapid City and western South Dakota, the opportunities are limited to see the Coyotes play.
The same can be said for area University of Wyoming alumni and basketball fans.
This weekend, Cowboys and Coyotes alike will be able to forgo the approximate 300-mile drive to Laramie from Rapid City or the 400-mile trip to Vermillion – at least for one game — as the two teams meet tonight at 7:15 in the Ice Arena at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
The USD women will open the doubleheader when they take on South Dakota School of Mines at 5 p.m.
“We want to spread the red, so to speak, and be amongst our alumni and fans,” said USD interim head coach Joey James. “This will give them an opportunity to see our style of basketball on the men’s and women’s side. Maybe that will trigger some interest for those fans to travel back to the east side of the state and attend some basketball games here, too."
According to the University of South Dakota alumni association, USD has 4,406 graduates in the Black Hills region, including 2,794 in Rapid City.
In announcing the game last June at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, USD Director of Athletics David Herbster said Rapid City is an event town and bringing Division I basketball here will not only help USD, but help West River experience their brand of basketball.
“We are taking a home game away, but we will be placing our team in an incredible setting,” Herbster said. “It will be an experience they will remember for a long time.”
It will certainly be a first for Wyoming fans to see their Cowboys in Rapid City. For many years at this time of the season, Wyoming hosted what was originally a two-day tournament in Casper before turning into a men’s/women’s doubleheader. The Casper Shootout ended a few years ago.
For many UW fans in eastern Wyoming, this trip to Rapid City is closer than the drive to Laramie.
“Any time we can get a good crowd for us away from home – it wasn’t such a fun feeling at Colorado and at Ohio State – that surely is the hope when we get to Rapid City,” Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt said.
The last time USD played in Rapid City was in 2004 when the Steve Anderson-led Coyotes faced Athletes in Action at Naasz Gymnasium at Central High School. Jones remembers that game as well, as he was a first-year graduate assistant with the program.
The last regular-season game by USD in Rapid City was in the early 1980s, according to University of South Dakota alumnus and former Coyote basketball player David Gustafson.
“I think the doubleheader is awesome. It’s been a long time coming,” Gustafson said. “We’re happy to energize them (USD alumni) and increase awareness of USD and our great community here in the Hills.”
Shyatt, who came back for his second stint at Wyoming a couple seasons ago after spending several years as the top assistant at Florida, said that although he is not familiar with Rapid City, they are looking forward to the Black Hills trip.
“We wanted to play four or five games away from home. I think that is necessary for any team in the country. That is important for us because we have to make some drastic trips in the year,” Shyatt said. “It’s going to be a good situation for us. I have great respect for their staff and their team. That is why we put this together. We wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”
For James, the game has a little different meaning than when it was first announced, as he took over on an interim basis in September when longtime head coach Dave Boots announced his retirement.
“I love my job. I went to school here; I played here for Coach Boots. I bleed red and white and I take a lot of pride in this program,” James said. “I think the guys see that; they see that, ‘you know what? He was no different than us 15 years ago.’ They know I understand the program. They want to do well, too. It’s been a great adjustment and a lot of fun.”