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IN THE SPIRIT: Off the court with the cousins

Makailah Dyer and Troy Huff1 / 2

Makailah Dyer and Troy Huff say they are the most laid back of all the 16 first cousins in their clan.

Off the basketball court that is.

“We are very mellow,” Makailah said.

“We are the shy ones,” Troy added. “We have crazy cousins — crazy in a good way. We just sit back and laugh at them.”

Among their fondest memories of growing up in Wisconsin are the talent shows the youngsters put on when their families gathered for holidays. The cousins worked up songs and dances, performing sometimes solo, sometimes in a cluster.

Even back then, Makailah was a team player, preferring a group performance. One wonders if Troy’s childhood forte was cartwheels.

Not so. 

“I never did anything in the talent shows,” he said. “I was always the judge. There never was a ‘winner.’ Everybody was a winner.”

Last Saturday, Troy showed us that he’s pretty good at courtside cartwheels. Out-of-the-blue, he did a handspring in front of the basket where he had just scored a buzzer-beating game winning 2-pointer which clinched a win for UND over Eastern Washington in the last 0.2 seconds of the game.

The flip surprised even the flipper.

“I don’t know where it came from,” Troy said. “I was so excited it was the only way I could express myself.”

In their blood

Troy grew up in Milwaukee and Makailah an hour away in Madison. Their love for basketball was passed off to them by their mothers who are sisters.

Theresa “Terri” Huff (Troy’s mom) and Janet Dyer (Makailah’s mom) are two years apart in age. Janet played for the Wisconsin Badgers from 1980 to 1984, earning all-Big Ten honors in 1984. Terri played for the Badgers from 1979 to 1983 and is the only Wisconsin player to have her number retired.

Janet is a supervisor of community programs for the city of Madison and Makailah’s dad, Michael Dyer, is a retired college psychology instructor who now mentors at-risk boys. Troy’s mom works in corrections and his dad, Troy Sr., is self-employed.

Sitting by Makailah’s parents makes a game all the more exciting and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Troy’s mom on the phone.

Here’s something we didn’t know about Makailah: She is a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

One day when she was shooting baskets with some of the cousins, Troy’s mother noticed how she followed through with her shots. ”She shot in correct form,” Terri said. “The next thing I knew, Tae Kwon Do was history.”

At Tuesday night’s game, I met Troy’s brother.

Turell Huff, 28, a behavioral health counselor in Scottsdale, Ariz., coaches grade-school boys’ basketball. He goes to Troy’s games that are closer to Scottsdale and watches all the others online. This was the first home game he’s seen Troy play.

“I’m the first one to let him know he had a heck of a game,” Turell said, “but I also criticize him more than anybody. He has made me proud over the past four years, not only for basketball but his excelling in the classroom.”

Troy was a great host when his big brother came to town. “He made sure I had snacks when he went to class,” Turell said, “and he let me use his car.”

A bit of home

After Troy’s freshman year at UND, fans were so glad they’d be able to watch him three more years. Then, when a new player on the women’s team turned out to be his cousin, it was pleasure times two.  

In 2011 at Madison East High School, Makailah averaged 24.6 points per game as a senior. She was named Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association all-state twice and committed to the Badgers out of high school spending a year and half there before coming to UND in January of 2012.

Transferring was not easy for Makailah as her heart was where her mother and aunt had played. Moving to UND came about because of lack of playing time in Wisconsin.

Janet feels that Troy and Makailah ending up together at UND “was their destiny.”

Troy welcomed Makailah with open arms.

“She and I have always been close,” he said. “It goes back as far as I can remember. That close-to-home feeling of having my cousin here is really cool for me.”


Besides being cousins, Makailah and Troy have another bond — faith. Makailah’s new favorite Bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

“I found it during my transfer process and I put it in God’s hands,” Makailah said. “When things weren’t going right, I looked to God. It all ended up happy. I’m really happy with my situation and where I’m at.”

Turell noticed Makailah’s contentment when he was here this week.

“Coming from the Badgers she was disappointed,” he said. “I am so happy to see her in her comfort zone. She loves it and I’m happy to see her happy.”

Troy has a large cross with his favorite Bible verse beneath it tattooed on his right upper arm. The verse is Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

“It’s the perfect verse for an athlete,” Troy said. “It’s pointless to go out there and play half-heartedly.”

Looking back

Makailah will be 20 in June. She is a sophomore majoring in kinesiology, the study of the structure and the workings of human muscles.

Troy, who turned 21 in February, will graduate at the end of summer with a degree in communications.

Winding up his years at UND and with the team is “starting to hit me now,” he said. “I’ve had a good time playing here. I feel like I just got here as a freshman. The time sure went by fast.”

Troy’s dreams continue to intensify. “When you are younger you want to play for a good high school team, then a good college team,” he said. “Now, I want to play at the highest level I can.”

And he “definitely has a shot,” Turell said. “If Grand Forks had an NBA team Troy would want to play for it. He loves it there. He loves the people.”

Makailah’s favorite thing about Troy is, “how similar we are,” she said. Besides being so “laid back, we have a similar sense of humor, which is why I feel we are so close. When time permits, we have gone to the gym a few times to shoot while catching up from not seeing each other due to our opposite traveling schedules.”

Yes, indeed, basketball is Troy’s and Makailah’s passion. It is engrained in them and they have engrained it in us.

Reach Dunavan at Read her blog at