Leech Lake Tribal College’s Jarell Jacobs prepares for new adventures on and off the basketball court.

LLTC’s graduation ceremony will take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 21, at the Northern Lights Casino in Walker.

CASS LAKE — Basketball has always played a role in Jarell Jacobs’ life.

Once he graduates from Leech Lake Tribal College on May 21, Jacobs plans to attend Bacone College in Oklahoma to pursue law enforcement and make a return to the hardwood.

“I’m pretty excited for that,” Jacobs said. “I didn’t play (basketball) this year because Leech Lake didn’t have a team, so it’ll be good to get back.”

He started dribbling around fifth grade and played for the Cass Lake-Bena Panthers until he graduated in 2020.

Being moved up to varsity in eighth grade, Jacobs compiled 805 points his senior season, which led to his 2,000th career point. He also broke the point-scoring school record with 57 points in one game against Deer River.

Jacobs signed on to play for Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, N.D., after graduating from Cass Lake-Bena. He also drew interest from Itasca Community College, Bismarck State and United Tribes Technical College, but chose Lake Region because of their support during the onboarding process.

Jacobs would only attend fall 2020, however, in the midst of stringent coronavirus restrictions before deciding to return to Leech Lake.

Such a decision did not come easy for him.

“Just coming back home, feeling like I was kind of letting down my family and all the people that supported me through the years,” Jacobs detailed, “that was a hard thing to get over.”

Taking up classes at Leech Lake Tribal College, he was determined to earn his associate’s degree before moving on to a four-year college.

Jacobs credited his sister for his law enforcement pursuits as she graduated from Bemidji State University with a criminal justice degree.

“Just being around her and some of the conversations we had, it kind of grew my interest in that area,” he said, “so that’s the main reason why I chose it.”

One of Jacobs’ closest friends who passed away last year was part of his motivation to attend Bacone, a 14-hour drive from Cass Lake.

“He was always the one who was there to let me know ‘you can do it,’” Jacobs said.

Among his biggest mentors are his high school coach John Wind and LLTC coach Brady Fairbanks.

“(Wind) played a big role growing up. He was always on me to make sure I was focused and I wouldn’t be here without him,” Jacobs said. “(Fairbanks) did a lot for me. Just a lot of talks about basketball, but also life experiences. He’s just a good guy.”

Recognizing the role of other people in his successes, he hopes to be a positive role model for his siblings and to show them the opportunities they can attain.

“Just being able to pave a way for them, showing them how to do good things in life,” Jacobs said, “and showing them that there’s more than just the reservation that we live on.”

Such a sentiment serves Jacobs’ purpose as he prepares for his next adventure in a new state, inside the classroom and on the court.

“Basketball has just been a big thing,” he left off. “I was always around it and I grew up in it. It’s a big thing in my life.”

LLTC’s graduation ceremony will take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 21, at the Northern Lights Casino in Walker.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.