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Red Cloud’s Forney headed for SAGU-AIC

Crusader senior ‘brought his energy to the floor’



OGLALA—For many, the first time they saw Wakinyan Forney was on a basketball court. He was wearing a basketball uniform, specifically the blue and white of Red Cloud Indian School, but he wasn’t playing basketball. He was standing courtside, and all the people at the game were standing, too, and Forney was handed a microphone, and he sang the Lakota Flag Song.

The singing of that song can be a profound thing, and Forney sings it as well as any Lakota ever has. It is your first clue there is more to Forney than meets the eye.

Although his life has been about much more than basketball, Forney has produced enough good basketball to earn a spot on SAGU-AIC’s roster this fall. Coach Tom Kuyper’s Warriors are out of Phoenix, Arizona and play in the NAIA. Forney plans to major in Sports Management and Exercise Physiology.

American Indian College was started in 1957 by missionary Alta Washburn, who wanted a college which catered specifically to Indian students and their spiritual development and continuing education. In 2016, the college partnered up with Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU), out of Waxahachie, Texas.

Like many Lakota, Forney was raised Catholic, and attends a Catholic high school, but his perception of the world is deeply influenced by his Lakota heritage and spiritual perceptions. Despite a difficult childhood (“I pretty much raised myself”), Forney has become a stable, predictable, dependable presence in his world, not just because that is his nature, but because he deliberately built himself into that through hard work and discipline.

“The creator don’t judge you by your skin,” Forney said. “He judges you by your heart.”

Forney has passion for the things he thinks are important, for the Lakota values he wants to honor, but he tries to never make it about attitude or ego, but about principle. Last year, after an emotional basketball win over arch-rival Pine Ridge, Forney spoke up in the post game locker room, and talked about what a hard year it had been, with the fatal execution style shootings up at Sharp’s Corner and in Pine Ridge, but how everybody had kept their minds focused through all of that turmoil, and pulled together as a team.

Forney’s speech would sum up the season for the Crusaders, it warned against all the frustration, distraction and lack of team focus that would dog them all year. Leaders recognize their weaknesses, they face reality, and Forney has shown he is mature beyond his years in that respect; he knows how to criticize without being offensive (“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”) and he knows how to take criticism. He says if he not playing well, doing something wrong, “I want coach to point it out.”

That was the best moment of last season, all the Crusaders huddled in the locker room, relieved that even though they had blown a big lead, Joe O’Rourke’s last second shot had rimmed out, and they had beaten the Thorpes at home, with a team that had graduated a stellar group of seniors the season before, and wasn’t expected to have the fire or talent to win in 2016-17.

Injuries would cost them their two best players in the weeks to come, and they struggled to regain the form they had displayed against the talented Thorpes, but Forney never stopped plugging away. He models his play after Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Forney said: “He ain’t worried about points, he knows his role, he just plays defense, rebounds, brings his energy to the floor.”

In the end, Red Cloud would finish 11-9, bow to Winner 52-48 in the first round of the Class A playoffs. Coach Christian McGhee often has teams people expect big things from, except this team, but in the end, it performed as well as the other teams did.

Forney spent his first five years going to school at Oelrichs, but he transferred to Red Cloud for the Fifth Grade. His best sport was football, but in the end he focused on basketball, thinking this was what would get him a shot at a college education.

At Red Cloud, Forney held down a 3.5 GPA (“I wasn’t at the top of the class, but I was solid”), but he never had a favorite class: “I felt like I could use little pieces of each class and just implement them.”

He knows transitioning from the reservation to a far off school can be tough: “Going into that environment, I don’t have a problem. Going there is good for me, I can only grow and develop from it.”

How ever his basketball efforts at SAGU-AIC go, Forney plans to get his education, and use that to come home and help Lakota athletes to become better athletes by training right, eating right, keeping their minds and bodies healthy. He is the type that will stay focused on that goal, since he has been self-motivating himself since he was in elementary school.

“In certain times, there are certain ways to act,” Forney said. “You can’t let outside influences bring you down.”

(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. Contact him at skindiesel@msn.com)

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