By: Mary Leaver, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Public Information Department
A new face will be coaching the Potawatomi Fire during their second season. However, he may be familiar to fans of The Basketball League.
Mark Dannhoff will be the new head coach of the Fire when their 2023 basketball season kicks off March 1 against the Mavericks in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“I’m really enjoying the passion in the community,” Dannhoff said. “Everybody’s been so welcoming. I can’t wait for the season. The enthusiasm and the excitement for the season has just been overwhelming. Hopefully we can live up to expectations.”
The Fire’s first home game will be March 17 against the Rockwall, Texas, 7ers.
Last year, the Fire concluded their successful inaugural season by winning 21 of 29 games, including the playoffs. Their 18-6 regular season record earned them the third seed in the Central Conference playoffs. They beat the 7ers in the first round before falling to the second-seeded and eventual TBL champion Shreveport Mavericks in the semifinal conference round.
In addition to his coaching stint in Enid, Oklahoma, Dannhoff brings nearly 30 years of experience at the college level. He served as an assistant on the staffs of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Georgia State University, Mercer University, University of Texas Pan-American, University of New Orleans, University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Tulane University.
He is the former head coach of the TBL Enid Outlaws.
THE 2023 FIRE
The 2023 Potawatomi Fire roster will include league MVP Deshawn Munson, and Dannhoff expects to have additional offensive and defensive weapons at his disposal. A few players are competing overseas and will join the Fire shortly after the start of the season. There will be some new faces as well, he said.
“We feel really good about the young men (signed). We like their ability to play the game, their basketball IQ, their experience and their level of play. But we also kept saying, ‘We want to get the right guys on the bus.’ We feel good about where we’re at,” Dannhoff said.
In addition to Munson, Dannhoff anticipates TBL veterans Chuck Guy, Lyle Hexom, Paul Harrison, T.J. Maston, A.J. Turner, K.D. Moore and Je’lon Hornbeak will contribute right away. Guy was named to the 2021 All-TBL first-team. Hexom is a 2022 TBL All-Star and defensive player of the year. Hornbeck is one of four players with experience in the NBA’s G League.
With the new faces, Dannhoff expects the team could be even stronger than last season.
“If we share the basketball on offense, do what we’re capable of doing and then turning around and defending and rebounding, we have a chance to make some noise and have some success. We’ve got to remember team first (and play) unselfish basketball,” he said.
Dannhoff has coached 53 players who have moved on to play at the professional level, including Oklahoma City native RaShawn Thomas, Linton Johnson, Sam Dekker, John Jordan and Bronson Koenig.
He has a firm belief that coaching is more than drawing up plays, it is about the bonds forged throughout the years. Dannhoff stays in contact with many of his former players through phone calls, email and social media. He has even had a few log onto a Zoom meeting to provide guidance and inspiration to Dannhoff’s current players.
“For me, (the relationships are) really what it’s about,” he said. “They go well beyond the time (spent) coaching. You want to hear about when they’re getting married or when they’re having a kid or that they’re taking a new job.”
For now, Dannhoff is focused on the team culture for the 2023 Fire roster, drawing upon his previous coaching experience to pull the team together and building a solid foundation.
“This is who we’re going to be, this is what we want to do, where we want to go and how we’re going to get there,” he said. “Only being here three or four months now and bringing in a whole new team, we’ve got to implement our culture. At the end of the day, your culture travels with you. If you defend and you stick to your training and your process, you can be successful on the road.”
One aspect not expected to change is the amount of interaction between the community and the team, Dannhoff said.
“The fact that these young men get out and interact with the community is the best part, because at the end of the day, it’s a basketball game. Yes, we want to win, we want to entertain, and we want to have a successful season. But success can come in many forms, and one is getting out in the community and getting to know the people in the community and becoming one big family,” he said.
FOCUS ON YOUTH
Dannhoff plans to schedule community outreach events at local schools, including basketball camps for children.
“Young kids are so impressionable and really look up to these guys,” he said. “They’re really good mentors, and they’re really good young men to follow. With our players working (the camps), the kids can say, ‘I got coached by Deshawn Munson today,’ or ‘Chuck Guy was helping me with my shot.’ We’re going to have a lot of opportunity for that as well.”
Dannhoff is aware of the complications of growing up in the digital age. He is grateful for the chance to positively impact the community.
“There’s just so much that these young kids have to deal with day in and day out, things we never even thought about,” he said. “We can give them a release to find something that they enjoy and brings joy to them. Coming to a basketball game, getting autographs or talking to one of the players — just that moment that they can forget about everything else and just enjoy something.”
In addition to sharing basketball tips, the Fire players give their young fans an example of how to set goals and follow dreams, Dannhoff said.
“These players played in college, and they can share how they got there. We’re here to help young kids pursue their dreams, whatever they may be, whether they want to be the first chair in the orchestra or they want to be a doctor, run their own business, be a basketball player, whatever it may be. We’re here to encourage them to follow their dreams and give it their best effort to see where life takes them,” Dannhoff said.
The La Crosse, Wisconsin, native and his wife, Chantal, have settled into the community, and they are eager to meet more fans.
“We have been so impressed and thrilled to be here in Shawnee. The people have been so welcoming and sweet to offer up any way they can help us with whatever we need. It’s just been a lot of fun, and we’re getting to know so many people,” Dannhoff said.
The Potawatomi Fire compete in the Central Conference of The Basketball League, a men’s professional basketball league with 44 teams across the country. The Fire is the first professional basketball team owned by a Native American tribe in Oklahoma. Find the full season schedule, tickets, merch and more at potawatomifire.com. Follow the team on Instagram @potawatomifire.