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KORBY’S CORNER: The House that Hakamaki built

Natalee (from left), Shaily, Teana, Andrea, Taya and Amanda Hakamaki all play girls basketball for Cromwell-Wright. The three sets of sisters, all cousins, live within 40 acres of each other and have honed their skills at Taya and Teana's homemade, heated and painted indoor basketball court. Tyler Korby/news@pinejournal.com

WRIGHT—When you pull up to the 27-acre homestead of Tim and Teresa Hakamaki, you’ll notice a small purple football figurine standing outside their home’s front door.

Sure, the family who lives just off Highway 210 between Cromwell and Wright are big Vikings fans, but take the trail just left of their driveway to their backyard and you’ll see — and begin to hear — the sport that means most.

It’s there that the spectacle stands: a 40-by-64-foot garage that’s a basketball paradise.

Yes, Tim and Teresa — with a lot of help — built their own version of “The Court of Dreams” in November 2010.

I had heard about the indoor heated hoops haven before, but Tuesday I took a trip to see it with my own eyes.

The roughly 2,500 square-foot garage is amazing. Equipped with two glass-back boarded hoops, black painted lines and a durable concrete floor that is cared for with precision, it’s a place that every youthful basketball lover would dream of.

Rugs are nailed to the corners of the walls to eliminate excess echoing and there’s insulation stuffed in the ceiling to keep it plenty warm. The lighting is good, and includes both artificial and natural. Speakers are mounted to the walls for warm-up music and posters of prior team successes are pinned to the wall.

Daughters Teana and Taya call this home. Their cousins, sisters Andrea and Amanda are also there often, while another pair of Hakamaki cousins, Shaily and Natalee, are over playing non-stop, too.

All six Hakamakis play basketball for Cromwell-Wright. Andrea, the eldest of them all, is a senior. Teana is a sophomore, Amanda, a freshman; Shaily and Taya are eighth-graders; and Natalee, the youngest, is in in sixth-grade.

Don’t worry if you’re confused. I was too. Cardinals Coach Jeff Gronner sometimes still gets that way, as well.

Gronner yells out nicknames for the girls, such as “Dre” for Andrea, or “Shay” for Shaily. Meanwhile, Teana goes by “T” and Taya “Tay.” Not to help the matter, they all stand between 5-foot-3 and 5-8, have straight blondish-brown hair, love to run and can shoot lights out — as was evident on my trip Tuesday.

A former Cloquet basketball player myself, I decided to lace up my black Nike high-tops and play a couple games of lightning with the six. Needless to say, I didn’t win either.

Shaily and Taya did, while all showed me why 7-0 Cromwell-Wright is ranked No. 8 in the Class A poll currently and has a long line of future talent in the offing.

Their main asset is speed, as one can watch when they play, or — breathing heavily like me — find out the hard way by playing against them. They seem to never get tired. And seem to never want to quit playing. The entire group of girls is humble, loves to play hoops, and relishes the place they call home.

“It’s a basketball player’s heaven,” said Teana, noting it was her father’s idea to build the indoor court. “We’re very blessed to have this place. We all really enjoy it.”

“I love it,” added Shaily. “This place is just amazing.”

“I get stuffed a lot,” laughed Natalee, “but it’s still fun.”

Tim said the goal was to create a venue where his young kids — and others in the tiny community — could play because of the school’s limited space. After its completion, the Hakamakis would invite entire teams over.

“They’d come off the bus and we’d literally practice here three or four nights a week,” Tim recalled. “We love it.

“It was a larger investment,” he continued, noting it was expensive, even with free labor. “But it’s worth every penny.”

The basketball wonderland is just 40 acres north from Andrea and Amanda’s home and 40 acres northeast from Shaily and Natalee’s. Whether it’s off the school bus or after dinner, the siblings often will four-wheel their way over.

“Usually my sister and I come over here before or after supper,” said Andrea. “Shaily, Taya and Amanda have to get called to come home all the time. I’m always waiting.”

The one she’s usually waiting for, Amanda, plays on the Cardinals’ junior varsity. Also in other sports, nothing seems to compare to the smile she has when talking of family hoops.

“It’s so fun here,” Amanda said. “I’m so thankful for it.”

“I’m here a lot,” added Taya. “It’s like a second home.”

The girls admitted they enjoy blasting music while playing. If they get too hot, they open the door, eat some snow and they’re back at it. They’re fun to watch, but even more enjoyable to be around. Gronner, speaking after their latest 70-59 victory at Cloquet Tuesday, would concur.

“They eat, sleep and breathe hoops. All the girls are gym rats. They have a ball in their hand a lot and just love the game,” he said. “It’s just fun to have a bunch of girls who are that skilled, that quick, that athletic and love basketball.”

Gronner noted it’s common to see brothers and sisters and cousins play in Cromwell. He has four other sets of cousins on his team and his own daughter, Bailey, also plays. All of the Hakamakis’ parents played, too, while Teana and Taya’s older brother, Tyler, graduated last year.

Nonetheless, it’s basketball that keeps them all connected.

“It makes us closer,” Taya said of their favorite sport.

Taya rated me “an eight or nine” on my skills Tuesday. Yet, it’s the oasis we were playing in that got the best nod.

I give the “House that Hakamaki Built” a solid 10.

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