RAPID CITY, SD — It is not uncommon for high school basketball teams to plug a new piece into their starting lineup in the final game of a state tournament.
But by having Angok Akot join Akok Aguer, Eli Williams, Tahj Two Bulls and Mikele Kambalo for Saturday's boys Class AA third-place game vs. Yankton High School, the Washington Warriors are believed to be the first team in South Dakota history to start five Black players.
"It speaks for the whole diversity of Washington and the way that all the students and all the staff treat each other there. It's just amazing," Washington coach Craig Nelson said. "Our guys are so looked up to amongst the entire school. These kids have just done things the right way, treated people the right way. They've embodied what the 'Circle of Courage' is at Washington and we're so proud of them."
After the game — a 62-55 loss for the top-seeded Warriors — Williams and Anger spoke to the significance of the team's starting lineup.
"You never really see many all-five Black lineups," Williams said. "We wanted to let everyone know that there's color here. There is diversity. We wanted everybody to know that we care and that there are other people out there who care about us, too."
"In basketball, it doesn't matter what color you are or anything like that," added Aguer. "It just matters about your family and who you are as a person."
Nelson said he and assistant coach Tim Reck have built such a strong relationship with this group of players that they are able to have discussions about race and diversity, as well as social issues. "It's just a unique situation that we have that we've become that close and can talk about anything and everything," he continued.
"It means everything," Williams said of his role as an athlete in bringing attention to social justice issues. "I get to show and speak out for those who are scared, the ones who go to predominantly-white schools and are scared to speak out for what they think is right. I know they get picked on. When they see us on the screen showing that we care and that we want to speak out and make sure that everything is known, it means a lot and I know it means a lot for our coaches to do it, too."
Asked to reflect upon his time as a Washington Warrior, Williams said: "It means the world. I'll never get to play for a team like this ever again. I love these boys from the bottom of my heart. I'm just sad I don't get to play another year with them."
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: All-Black starting lineup believed to be first in South Dakota history