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PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Dakota Pride has quite the collection of athletes

Randy Kroeplin of Grand Forks is a retired farmer. He's also turned out to be an excellent basketball recruiter. Kroeplin is manager of Dakota Pride, an AAU boys basketball team. Duane Smith is head coach. But, according to Devils Lake High Schoo...

Randy Kroeplin of Grand Forks is a retired farmer. He's also turned out to be an excellent basketball recruiter.

Kroeplin is manager of Dakota Pride, an AAU boys basketball team. Duane Smith is head coach. But, according to Devils Lake High School senior Nate Mertens, "Randy is the mastermind behind it, the one who gets a lot of players."

And it is quite a collection of players Kroeplin has put together for the team, which has been together the past three summers.

Last summer's group included six players who earned all-state honors this winter and at least six who have scored more than 1,200 points in their high school careers.

"It wasn't points we looked at when we've asked kids to play for us," Kroeplin said. "It was well-rounded players. All these kids have scored a lot for their high schools. But we wanted the team players, the athletic kids who knew how to play ball, whether it was scoring, passing or playing defense."

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Scoring? No problem,

• North Star's Jake Hagler ended his prep career with 2,328 points;

• Mertens, Mac Kroeplin of Grand Forks Red River, Daniel Grande of North Star, Jim Warmack of East Grand Forks Senior High and Jake Pavek of Mahnomen all surpassed 1,200 points.

Mertens, Kroeplin and Hagler were Mr. Basketball finalists. The three were all-staters, as were Grande, Chase Carpenter of Valley City and Tanner Kretchman of Fargo Davies.

And, on occasion, North Dakota Mr. Basketball winner A.J. Jacobson of Fargo Shanley, Minnesota Mr. Basketball finalist Jim Lein of Moorhead and 2012 North Dakota Mr. Basketball winner Melvin Langstaff of Warwick are among the athletes who have played with the team over the last three AAU seasons.

"We don't need a shot clock," Mac Kroeplin said. "We run the whole time. We score a lot of points."

Even with all these high scorers from the high-school ranks, Mertens said there always have been enough shots to go around.

"With all that talent around you, you don't feel like you have to do it all," Mertens said. "That's what makes it fun. We've never had a problem with making the extra pass. I think we're pretty generous moving the ball. You actually look to pass more. If you're open, you shoot; if not, you make the extra pass to find someone else who's open."

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There also is some razzle-dazzle to their game. Mac Kroeplin said the best in that department might be Grande. "He's flash. He'll go behind the back or no-look with his passes.

"We all share the ball. Everyone is comfortable with that. We all like to pass."

The style has worked. Mac Kroeplin said that the team has played nearly 200 games, winning about 70 percent of those as well as several tournaments.

The team made its mark three years ago. Playing in the strongest division in its age group at Minnesota's AAU state tournament, Dakota Pride took the title.

"We were short compared to almost every other team there," Randy Kroeplin said. "But we won. Teams didn't know what hit them. They probably didn't think much when they saw this bunch of small kids from North Dakota. But we're athletic and we play defense. And it's the most unselfish group of kids you'll ever see."

And, as the honors and the numbers the Dakota Pride players have accumulated during their prep careers, the AAU experience has paid off.

"In AAU, everybody on other teams is good," Mertens said. "You can't slough off against anybody. That definitely helps you get ready for high school ball."

DeVillers reports on sports. Call him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1128; or send e-mail to gdevillers@gfherald.com .

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