Brent Dekok represented so much for what it means to be a coach in this sports community in North Dakota. With his passing on Wednesday, the coaches that have been touched by his journey are speaking out on what it meant to be a friend on and off the court.
Taking over St. Mary’s boy’s basketball in 2014, Brent DeKok made an impression on that program right from the start, making a state tournament championship game. A coach with a fierce competitive side once the ball was tipped, but a smile and a handshake after the final whistle.
“I always felt like I was outcoached the moment I took the floor,” says Legacy’s Jason Horner. “Because I’m like, what do you have for us tonight, and he would just smile and then you find out pretty fast that they ran some kind of screening action or ran some kind of cutting action or did some dribble drive stuff and you’re like ‘Oh boy.”
“He was someone that, we were such good friends,” says Bismarck’s Jordan Wilhelm. “But as soon as we got to the court, it didn’t matter what it was, we wanted to beat each other and there was a rivalry there on the court but the second it was over, that rivalry ended and we became friends again.”
After his Cancer diagnosis in 2016, DeKok stayed on the sidelines, showing a commitment to his team and his players far beyond the norm.
“I specifically remember a conversation that we had last year in the locker room,” says Century’s Darin Mattern. “I didn’t specifically want the words to come out this way but I said ‘Brent, how do you do this?’ And I’ll never forget that day and he used a few simple words. He said ‘Darin, I don’t have a choice.’ And that stuck with me and that’s something I think about on a daily basis.”
DeKok was a giver to the game of basketball in North Dakota, finding time to call other coaches, sharing ideas, and being there in a time of need.
“He had such an impact on me because the focus wasn’t on him or on winning,” says Minot’s Dean Winczewski. “Yes, it’s important. But there was such a greater fight that he was going through and he used the term perspective a lot when it comes to coaching, but I think he gave me a lesson on perspective.”
Throughout his fight, DeKok stayed ‘Brent Strong,’ a movement represented by a yellow t-shirt, and a will to win any battle that faced him.
“I’ve never heard him complain one day in four and a half years,” says Horner. “Just the way he handled himself with that strength and dignity and faith. He is a man of great faith. So it was never a victim mentality, it was just a ‘what do I have to do.”
And the true meaning of Brent Strong was never more realized than coming back to coach.. just days after his first surgery.
“He took the Demons down that night,” says Wilhelm. “And let’s just say it wasn’t about the game that night. It was about his strength and what he brought to the table. And although we lost on the court that night, it was no doubt that it was a special moment and something that I’ll never forget.”
As a coach, Brent DeKok’s legacy will live on in the lessons other coaches teach their kids for years to come.
“If anything, whether we win any games this year or we win any games this year again or anything positive happens, for us, on the court, it’s a bigger deal to represent ourselves and have positive contributions to those around us,” says Winczewski. “We can have such an impact and do so many great things in our lives, and to fail to do that would miss the message that Brent would want to send out.”
“The amount of faith that he had throughout everything,” says Horner. “That he believed that this was for a reason. His faith that he was going to beat it. His faith that if he wasn’t going to beat it that there was something better afterward. So the friendship that I established with him, I’m gonna miss him.”
“I know he brought three beautiful kids into this world that are going to be great citizens in our community and then they are going to do some great things to carry on their dad’s legacy. And I’m very excited to follow them and I know Brent’s listening and I just want to let him know that we’re going to take great care of them.
A visitation has been scheduled for Brent Dekok on Thursday, October 21st at the Parkway Funeral home from 5 to 7 pm, and a celebration of life will take place the next day at 11 am on Tony Wold Court at St. Mary’s High School.