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USD's Tori DePerry enjoying her graduate transfer season at the Division I level

Jan. 19—VERMILLION — If Thursday night's heroics are any indication, South Dakota forward Tori DePerry is fitting in well at the Division I level.

With four-tenths of a second remaining in USD's road tilt at St. Thomas, the 6-foot Division II graduate transfer slipped down towards the basket, caught a perfect in-bounds pass from Alexi Hempe, and laid the ball off the glass as the horn sounded to give the Coyotes a 63-61 win in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The play, which improved USD women's basketball's record to 13-6 and 2-2 in Summit League play, was just a glimpse of the impact DePerry's provided for the Coyotes this season. She is third on the team in scoring (9.2 points per game) and second in rebounds (4.8 per game) while providing a veteran role for the Coyotes' roster.

And her success should come as no surprise, considering her college basketball pedigree.

DePerry transferred from Saginaw Valley State, a Michigan school in the competitive Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, where she totalled 1,173 points in four years.

"The transition has been pretty easy," DePerry said. "There have been times where it's a little different, but honestly, where I was, at a GLIAC school, it's pretty competitive there. Even though it's a Division II school, we ran it kind of like a Division I program. But it's been pretty smooth so far."

DePerry, a Shawano, Wisconsin native, has grown a great deal as a basketball player during her college tenure. After graduating from Shawano Community High School, she said she arrived at Saginaw Valley State "pretty scrawny."

She committed herself to the team's strength program, and developed enough power to be a physical presence in the post. Playing against other top Division II competition helped her improve her skill set, and she developed a variety of post moves, and began taking on defenders off the dribble from the perimeter.

The effort paid off for DePerry during her senior season, when she became a top player in the conference, averaging 17 points and eight rebounds per game to garner first team all-conference honors.

"I think having those good players around you makes you get better," DePerry said. "I had a pretty good post player that I would go against in practice. And I think that helped me. Senior year, I really just amped it up a level. I was really dedicated to my craft, and just got a lot better too."

Exercising her fifth year of eligibility — which she had due to the COVID-19 year — DePerry finished her season and entered the transfer portal, where she attracted the attention of USD coach Kayla Karius, who was looking for a physically-imposing player to help the team. Karius invited DePerry for an official visit.

"It meant a lot that coach Kayla brought me here for a three-day visit when I was in the portal, and it just felt very comfortable," DePerry said. "And this was the only visit I took, because she asked me if I wanted to commit when I was here, and it just felt like it was right, so I did."

"She is a strong, blue-collar forward who has improved each year and earned first-team all-league honors in the GLIAC, a top Division II league in the country," Karius said when the team signed DePerry. "She brings athleticism, physicality, and tough defense to our team. With her collegiate experience and hard-working mentality, she is a great fit for us."

DePerry feels she's developed a strong mental intelligence from her time in college.

She earned a bachelors degree in psychology at SVSU, and is studying an interdisciplinary masters degree at USD with an emphasis on adult higher education and sports leadership. Additionally, she developed a relationship with the in-house sports psychologist at SVSU, and said she's benefited from meeting with a personal therapist.

"It's just kind of interesting being an athlete with what goes on with the mental aspect, because people see a lot of the physical aspect on the court, but they don't know what happens outside the court with how your mental well-being is."

Her post-college goal is to stay around basketball, working as a mental health performance coach, or player development coach. But first, she's using her skills to help lift her teammates.

Following a disappointing home loss to Oral Roberts last week, DePerry admitted it was a challenging turn-around to get out of bed and brave a blizzard to get to practice the next morning. But in moments like those, she remembers "to stay true to the process," and help her teammates do the same.

"I've just been trying my best to be a leader out there as much as possible," DePerry said. "Give energy at practice, because I feel like personally, it's my last year. So you know that I'm going to give it my all. But people that still have three more years, it can be hard to motivate them to be like, alright, we got to have a good practice today. Even though it's snowing outside, we have to get out of bed, we have to get to practice, stay motivated, stay hungry."

DePerry's family heritage is one of her on-court motivators.

Both of her parents are Native American, and grew up on a reservation in northern Wisconsin. Her mother is a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, and her father is a member of the Ojibwe tribe — also known as the Chippewa. DePerry is also a member of the Ojibwe tribe.

Growing up, DePerry frequently visited her families' cabin on the reservation, and took part in many of the tribe's cultural traditions as a kid, including powwow dances.

"I'm very proud to be Indigenous," she said.

Coming to school in South Dakota, which she learned has a prevalent Native American community, has given DePerry a chance to further tap into her heritage. She has connected with the Native American Student Center at USD, and the group even invited tribe members from nearby high schools to come watch one of her games.

"It was so cool to know they were there to watch me. They see a person that kind of looks like them and can say, 'Oh, she's Native American. She's a hooper. She's Division I. Like, I can do that too.' And that's just super special for me to represent for all generations, being a Native American."