Severson was quite a salesman. After prodding Smith and Norman—two city kids from the East—to go to Coon Rapids, he advised them to transfer on to South Dakota when Paulsen became coach at Huron in 1984. Last year he prevailed on Braxton and Beckette—by phone—to enlist at Huron. Severson has never even seen the Tribe play, except on videotape. And although he frequently counsels (again, by phone) all the Huron ex-Marines, two of them, Braxton and Beckette, he has met only briefly—at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. The team was on its way to last season's NAIA tournament in Kansas City, where it lost to Southeastern Oklahoma State. Says Smith, "Dennis is different from his voice. He's a distinguished businessman. Then you meet him and say, 'He's a cool dude.' "
College basketball uplifted the ex-Marines; their triumphs uplifted the community, and the community's enthusiasm uplifted the college. In 1982, a year shy of the school's centennial, Huron had almost gone belly-up. Enrollment was under 300, and only one of the two dorms on the seven-building campus was in use. But thanks in part to the team's success in a quietly cage-crazy state, the student body has swelled to 500. Locals jam the 6,500-seat Huron Arena, with its unique floor of white kitchen tile, on which Beckette has been known to cook.
The Tribe's combative esprit de court has rubbed some rival fans the wrong way. The former Marines are older and more physical than players at other schools in the area, and they win a lot. They are also black men in an almost all-white environment. But rival coaches admire the kind of running, gunning game they play. "They've added a lot to basketball in our area," says Bob Olson of Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D. "But that's because they're good kids. It wouldn't work if Fred was having to get them out of jail every week."
No need to worry about that. Their country has honorably discharged them. Their community has happily embraced them. Their college praises and promotes them. Four abreast, these Marines are making their final stand. They're looking for a few good championship rings.