Photo By Hillary Ehlen
It’s extremely rare in college athletics to retain the same team year after year. Every team, especially in college basketball, is forced to re-load each season in the era of “one and done” student-athletes. It would be incredibly difficult to find a team that returns not only their entire starting five but almost their entire bench as well. The numbers just don’t work out that way.
North Dakota State is one of those teams. Despite losing two players to transfer in the offseason, Dave Richman returns his entire starting five from 2018-19 as well as every key contributor off the Bison bench. The mere mention of that may leave other college coaches awestruck. For the rest of the Summit League, it leaves them shaking in their sneakers.
A key figure in this is sophomore Sam Griesel. As a true freshman, Griesel started in 22 games for the Bison. Had it not been for an early-season injury, he may have started more. By year’s end, Griesel was averaging six points and nearly four rebounds per contest on an efficient 47 percent shooting.
Perhaps his biggest moment was the career-high 20 points he scored in NDSU’s semifinal win over Western Illinois in the Summit League Tournament. Either way, Griesel’s play last season left Bison fans giddy with what the 18-year-old could do with his remaining three years on campus. In his mind, confidence is key in his success.
“I felt like I grew a lot with each game and I think my numbers showed that towards the end of the season. Taking what I learned last season and this summer and incorporating it into my game and playing with confidence,” Griesel said. “Coach tells me every day that when I’m playing with confidence I’m a different player.”
Others took notice of Griesel’s success as well. He was selected to compete for Germany’s under-20 national team in the FIBA European Championships this summer.
Griesel played in seven games during a nine-day stretch for the German team. The Germans were able to take home the bronze medal in the FIBA European Championships. For Griesel, it was a chance to learn and grow his game.
“I was over there for about a month and a half. This whole summer with vacation and basketball, I went to six different countries so that was pretty cool. From a basketball perspective, it was really good for me to go over there and get the FIBA aspect of everything,” Griesel said. “The game was way more physical then I thought it would be and everybody can shoot over there too. It raised my skill level quite a bit just being there and being in the gym every day. My defense, having to get down on everyone with a closeout and staying in front because the athleticism and physicality are way different.”
Expectations are high for not only Griesel but the Bison as well. With those swirling around them, Griesel feels it’s necessary to tune it all out and focus on the team’s goals. “Our mindset is just to have that tunnel vision. We have our own goals and that’s really all that matters to us,” he said. “The hype and all that is nice but we try not to listen to that stuff and stay within our core group of guys. We believe that is how we’re going to be successful and that’s how we’ve been successful.”
Along with those expectations come challenges. The Bison have been able to schedule some top-tier talent from Power Five leagues in recent seasons. Last year, NDSU traveled to Iowa State and faced off with a number-one ranked Gonzaga in Spokane. This season, the Bison will travel to face off with the Big 12’s Kansas State and the Big East’s Marquette. Griesel and the Bison love rolling the ball out and testing themselves against stiff competition.
“We’re definitely trying to prove something. I’ve always loved those games even in my AAU days just to go out and prove myself,” Griesel said of the impending match-ups with the Wildcats and Golden Eagles. “At the end of the day, it’s just basketball and I’ve played several games of basketball in my life. I’m going out there to have fun and compete with the guys that I love.”
Chemistry is something the Bison were known for last season. With a similar group of guys back in 2019-20, Griesel knows chemistry is built on and off the court. “It’s built in the summer and during the hard things you do as a team like lifts in the morning, practices. When you go through adversity, you become that much closer with your teammates,” he said. “Obviously, it’s shown on the court but it develops during lifts and practices. I wasn’t here this summer, but I know our new guys came in and were a great fit with us. You can see that we’re all really chill guys and like to have fun. We all love each other, there is no beef or anything.”
Alongside Griesel is a trio of outstanding sophomores and juniors. One cannot speak on Griesel’s efficiency in 2018-19 without first mentioning Tyree Eady. As a redshirt freshman last season, Eady shot a scorching 49 percent from the field. Add to that, a 41 percent clip from long range and you have some pretty impressive marks for a guard. Given his size and length for a guard, he could add a dribble-drive game to his arsenal this season.
Cameron Hunter has been a mainstay for Dave Richman at the point guard spot. Now a junior, Hunter has a wealth of experience running the offense. Much of this is thanks to the 21 games he started as a redshirt freshman in 2017-18. Like Eady and Griesel, Hunter takes incredibly efficient shots, knocking down 40 percent of his field goals and three-point field goals last season. He’ll presumably come off the bench for Richman this season but holds “stat-stuffing” potential, especially from long range.
Lastly, one cannot overlook the constant growth of big man Rocky Kreuser. The 6-foot-10 centerpiece has molded his game around the ever-evolving sport of basketball. He is less of a back to the basket post but is incredibly dangerous in pick and pop situations. Kreuser nailed 35 percent of his three-pointers last year. He is also the team’s most valuable interior defender, leading the team with 39 blocks in 2018-19. The junior is vital to NDSU’s success this year.
While teams across the nation are re-tooling their rosters for the 2019-20 season, North Dakota State is doing something different. Rather than re-tooling, they are improving each day with the same core group as last season. That can only prove advantageous as the season draws nigh.