Jackrabbit basketball player rises to role model status on reservation

Jackelyn Severin

Jackelyn Severin

When Mackenzie Casey was younger, he set a goal that some day he would go to college and play Division-I basketball. Now, the Jackrabbit junior guard is the perfect example of what having goals and sticking to them can achieve.

Casey, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and graduate of Red Cloud High School, has become a role model for his friends and family on the Pine Ridge Reservation and across South Dakota. But his work ethic is something that every South Dakotan should learn from and aspire to.

For Casey and his friends in Wounded Knee, basketball was not just something that passed the time; it was a way of life. Casey was always looking forward to the next five-on-five tournament or the next pick-up game at the nearest basketball court.

“I started in second grade and I fell in love with the game,” Casey said.

Other students on the reservation dream to play college ball, but not many Pine Ridge graduates even finish college, said Maurice Twiss, head of special programs for Shannon County School District.

“Mackenzie has become a very positive role model,” Twiss said.

Casey’s influence reaches all American Indians throughout South Dakota, but especially in Pine Ridge. Even though Casey is a bit shy about his hometown fame, he does not deny his effect.

“It makes me feel good to be a role model for children on the reservation,” Casey said.

Tom Casey, Casey’s father, said his son’s hard work has shown students that by setting goals and avoiding drugs and alcohol, they can succeed. Tom Casey also acknowledges that Casey is held to certain standards, not only by himself, but by the whole Pine Ridge population.

“Mackenzie can’t quit; people rely on him,” Tom Casey said.

On top of these added pressures, Casey had to move away from his support system and deal with the cultural differences that followed. One difference is the style of play between reservation and college basketball.

“On the res, there is no structure, no set plays, but in college there is more structure,” Casey said.

“You have to worry about the shot clock, the next play, the defense and offense of the other team-it’s not like street ball.”

Basketball is priority in Casey’s life, but he understands the importance of receiving a good education.

“I’m going to have to rely on my education to support my family, so it is real important and it’s a big part of my life,” he said.

That is a rule his father set when Casey was in high school.

“In our house, if you didn’t go to school you had better be on your death bed,” Tom Casey said.

Casey’s coach notices his hard work on and off the court. SDSU’s Men’s Basketball Head Coach Scott Nagy said Casey never gets down and he is always supportive of his teammates.

“He is one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Nagy said.

But there are moments Casey feels like quitting, and every time he starts to give up, he thinks of all the youth on the reservation.

“If I would have quit and went back home, I just would have been another statistic,” Casey said.

“I want to show the youth on the reservation that it is possible.”

Casey’s father is another motivation during the hard times. Tom Casey is busy with his job as business manager and development director for KILI Radio on the Pine Ridge Reservation, but still makes time for Casey’s basketball games. Last year he attended 21 of the 31 games, sometimes driving as far as Illinois and Kentucky to watch his son play.

He enjoys watching Casey play and he understands how important it is for him to show his support.

“I think he is a good young man who wants do to the right thing,” Tom said. “I have total confidence in him.”

This summer Casey will preparefor next season by lifting and working on his shooting and ball handling. His senior-year goals are simple: To be a better player and help his team.

“I want to help my team get a lot more wins,” Casey said. “I would like for us to make it to the National Invitation Tournament.”

Casey said basketball is what he knows best and that it will always be a part of his life. In the future, he hopes to continue being a role model for youth and share his love and knowledge of the game by coaching basketball.

#1.883728:3833462147.jpg:casey.jn.jpg:Junior guard Mackenzie Casey devotes his life to playing basketball for the blue and yellow.: