Growing up on the Fort Peck Reservation in Poplar, Montana, Richard Dionne dreamed of playing basketball professionally. Choosing to avoid negative influences around him, he promised his parents he would stay away from drugs and alcohol. This decision was a key to his success, he says. And he was able to realize his dream as a result.
After playing basketball in high school and community college, small forward Dionne, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, played on an all-Indian travelling team. To fill their preseason schedule one year, the Yakima, Washington Yakama Sun Kings of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) scheduled a game against Dionne’s. He played superbly, leading to his soon being signed by the Sun Kings, becoming one of the first Native CBA players.
During his two seasons with the Sun Kings, Dionne excelled, helping the squad win back-to-back CBA championships (the Sun Kings, owned by the Yakama Nation, were shut down in April 2008 by the tribe due to financial losses).
Today, with one dream realized, Dionne, 32, is now pursuing another life’s dream: Earning his master’s degree so he can work with students as a school counselor.
In a conversation with ICTMN, part of our Conversations With Champions series, Dionne tells what it was like to win titles, shares about his personal accomplishments in education and offers what he thinks about the recent successes of Native basketball players.
What are you doing these days?
I'll be finishing graduating with a master’s degree in school counseling on May 11. Every other weekend I had class and this year I had internships. This meant I worked 40 hours a week as a guidance counselor and then another two days a week at my internship sites as a middle school counselor in the Yakama school district.
This has been one of my long-term goals and I finally get to accomplish it. I am thankful for the support of my wife because it was a tough couple of years.
[editor's note: Dionne successfully earned his master's degree in school counseling on May 11 from Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington]
Very few players know the feeling of playing in a championship and you got a championship ring as a first-year rookie, how did it feel to do that?
It was definitely awesome the first time that we won the championship–just to be a part of it. But to win it the second year actually in Yakima in front of my family and friends and the hometown crowd was just awesome.
Sometimes there are barriers for Native players: how can they overcome them to achieve success?
I think in any situation, there are going to be barriers. It depends on the choices you make. I knew the choices that I had to make to get where I needed to be.
It was also nice having a great support system from my family growing up to include my Mom and Dad growing up, and now my wife, Nettie, and my kids. That is now my motivation, to do better for them each and every day.
A lot of students and a lot of kids growing up probably do not have that support system. They might choose the wrong friends and hang out with the wrong people. The big thing is the choices that we make growing up. Yes, there are all these different obstacles and barriers, but you can choose whether to do that or not.
What did you think of the Schimmel sisters this year?
Shoni was the first one that I heard about a few years ago. I got to watch her at a three-on-three tournament. To see her talent and the passing ability that she had, she was way ahead of everybody else. I didn't know she had a sister [Jude Schimmel] until she signed at Louisville. They have done some amazing things.
2013 has been an amazing year for Native American basketball players: what are your thoughts about all of the increased exposure?
I think it is great. Shoni and Jude and Angel Goodrich: they are setting the stage to let the world know that they can play with the best of them. These girls that are showing this and proving this–it is just awesome. This exposure that they are getting for themselves and their people and their tribe and for Natives everywhere, there are only going to be good things from here.
I look forward to watching the Schimmel sisters next year. I am sure they will be drafted [into the WNBA] as well. The exposure they are going to bring to Native people all over will continue to be great.
Do you still wear your CBA championship rings?
Both of those rings I gave to my Mom and my Dad as a Christmas present. My Dad has his ring up on display on a shelf and every time I go home I take a look at them and think back.
What's in the future for you?
For right now, I'd like to get into an actual school district [as a counselor] to get the process going and stay in that job until I retire. What is enticing to me is having summers off to be able to hang out with my kids and watch them grow. Something I have always wanted to do is to be a school counselor. To accomplish that now is definitely fulfilling.