When Toni and Melick Russell came to Mitchell in 2016, Melick had a goal.
“I wanted to shine a light on girls’ basketball,” he said.
Born in Detroit and raised in South Carolina, Melick grew up in a town known as “Football City, USA.”
“A lot of great football players, NFL players, come from Rock Hill, South Carolina,” he said.
And although he played football, Melick’s passion is basketball, specifically girls’ basketball.
Toni is a native of the Mitchell area, and she met Melick while in South Carolina with her grandmother caring for an ailing relative. When she came back to South Dakota, she and Melick stayed in touch. After a long-distance relationship, they married in 2005.
While the Russells lived in South Carolina, Toni worked at Carolinas Medical Center. But as their family grew to include Malachi, 11, and Micah, 6, being close to Toni’s mom in Mitchell became more important.
“After Malachi spent some time here one summer, my mom really wanted us to live closer,” said Toni.
So, in 2016, the family moved to Mitchell. Toni took a job with DaVita, a healthcare company that provides dialysis services, as an administrative assistant. In addition to the Mitchell location, she sometimes travels to the clinic at Rosebud.
“I love my job,” said Toni. “They’re like my second family.”
The move to Mitchell provided the opportunity for Melick to pursue his basketball passion, and he founded the Wolverines, a girls’ basketball training and coaching business.
“I am trying to teach the girls to be skills-oriented basketball players,” he said.
Growth to his program is slow and steady, and he has been encouraged by the talent he’s seen and worked with. In 2018, his junior NBA team, the only one in South Dakota, took third place at the 10-state Central Region tournament in Kansas City.
His teams have also placed in the top three in various tournaments, including Willie Mac and Kearney Blowout.
Melick is NCAA-certified, NYSCA-certified and AAU certified, and he is one of five USA Gold-certified coaches in South Dakota. Currently he has a 4th/5th grade team that has some spots available, and he is working with a few high school students, both in Mitchell and Parkston.
His fees are $50 per month for coaching two days a week, and $60 for the year for those who want to compete on a Wolverines traveling team.
In addition to his basketball program, Melick is an assistant manager at Dairy Queen, and he works at the Days Inn. These connections and others have led to good community support for the Wolverines in the community.
Ultimately, he wants girls to see college basketball scholarships as a reality.
“I have a network that includes numerous college coaches,” he said. “They are paying attention to the talent I work with.”
Toni is a great supporter of Melick’s business and his talents.
“His style may not be for everyone,” she said, “but he will help you improve, and he’s always positive with his players.”
The Russell boys have found their interests in Mitchell – Malachi participates in taekwondo and enjoys music and the arts, and Micah enjoys football. Both like to spend time in the summer at the outdoor aquatic center.
This family is all-in when it comes to traveling and supporting the Wolverines and Melick’s goals – and his goals are lofty.
“We like living in Mitchell,” he said. “And I want to bring national recognition to this area.”