Portrait By Hillary Ehlen
The game of basketball is always changing, moving from one trend to another. Currently, the game sways in favor of high-octane offensive play. A movement that began in the NBA has since trickled down into the collegiate game. No more is it imperative that a team has a player like Dexter Werner or Marshall Bjorklund. Teams will no doubt love to have guys like that, but back to the basket post play is being phased out of offensive sets.
For NDSU men’s basketball coach Dave Richman, part of being a coach is adapting to a changing game. Given his offseason moves, he feels his team is trending upwards and looking to play a different brand of basketball. Bison Illustrated sat down with coach Richman to discuss these adaptations as well as the 2018-19 season.
You guys seem to have a pretty guard and perimeter heavy roster this season. Is that going to change the pace you play at?
It’s a trend in the game of basketball, particularly in college basketball. The way the game is being officiated, it’s more of an offensive friendly game, so to speak. The physicality on the block has kind of gone by the wayside. When you talk about a true back to the basket guy like Marshall Bjorklund, you just don’t see them anymore. As nice as it is to be big, strong and physical down low, there are so many ball screens that if you don’t have a guy that can move his feet a little bit and be involved a little bit on defending the ball screen, you’re going to be in for a long run.
Your schedule this year is a gauntlet, to put it lightly. How do you prepare a team for such a tough run like they’ll see this season?
That’s a very under-reported thing. The schedule is very tough and I think there are a couple parts to that. Number one, when you have the success that we have had for the most part and you’re located in Fargo, North Dakota, getting games against teams you feel you could beat or even getting home games is very difficult. So you end up almost taking any game that you can get.
Also, at the very end of the day, we’re going to get judged on three games in March and everything we’re trying to do in November, December is to position ourselves to get better so we’re ready in January or February to be where we need to be for those three days in March.
Everyone has the game against Gonzaga circled on November 26. I don’t think you guys have had a bigger non-conference game since you met them in the NCAA Tournament in 2015. Do you think that as well?
When you just go off name recognition and being in a national championship game and the success coach Few has had, yeah, it’s a big, marquee game. It’s one the fans look at too. It’s one down the road for us from the standpoint of where we have numerous games ahead of that one. You look at even the game before that at East Tennessee State, they are a high-level program even from a mid-major perspective and then to go from there out to Washington state, there’s some travel there.
We have to make sure we eliminate the excuses. One thing you can do really easy is comparing different things, what they have and what we don’t have. That’s not what we’re about, we can’t go and compare ourselves, we have to go out and compete. I know our guys will be looking forward to the challenge.
Six new guys coming in this season. How do you manage all of those new bodies?
You talk about the style of play or the physicality or lack thereof in the game, the other piece that has changed is that rosters are turning over quite a bit in the spring. We brought in six new guys, but you look across the landscape of our league, that’s happening. You’re adjusting some of those ways you do things and try to bring guys along a little quicker than normal. It’s nice to have them in the summer and the fall before we get into practices.
There are just some things that take time. I go back to what’s important in November and December is we’re going into every game, Gonzaga, Iowa State, it doesn’t matter who, with the thought of we’re going to get this W. Also, it’s all about us getting better and bringing these guys along and understanding the areas of improvement that we have regardless of the result of the game.
To me, it seems beneficial to have guys like Cam Hunter and Vinnie Shahid on the floor at the same time. That way one can handle the ball and the other is moving off the ball for a shot. Is that the plan with them this season?
You go back and look at last year and obviously, not where you want to be as far as a win-loss standpoint. If you look at the pure games we had, and I mean the games we feel our opponents are comparable to ourselves, and we lose those eight or nine games by an average of five or five and a half points. So it’s a two or three possession game one way or another and you look back at that.
Like a shortstop in baseball or a quarterback in football, a point guard is so important in basketball. A guy like Cameron Hunter had great games, but he also played like a redshirt freshman sometimes with some inconsistency. To have Cameron back with some experience and bring in a guy like Vinnie that we think has the potential to be a really good player in this league, it’s nice to know we have some experience, some depth at that vital position.
Talk about the evolution of Deng Geu. He came in as a very raw talent, needed to be molded. What have you seen from him and how has he improved?
When you talk about evolution for Deng, you start all the way back to junior high where he really didn’t start playing until he was in seventh grade. That might seem young for some, but for most of us, we picked up a ball when we were two, three years old and played throughout. That learning curve was a little bit greater for Deng and so you’re starting to see, especially within our program, see him pick up on concepts and carry those concepts over. He’s done a tremendous job this fall of putting on weight and keeping that weight on and I think that’s going to carry over.
Probably the biggest thing was the opportunity he had this summer to go play with Uganda and the success that he had and confidence he built, we’ve seen that carry over to this fall. The next step is for when the lights come on this winter for our season, he can build on those things and keep the confidence.
The Summit League was always a rough and tumble sort of conference. Do you see that shift across the league where a big guy like Mike Daum can post up but is better on the perimeter?
It all touches back. If you show me a Marshall Bjorklund, who is excited and wants to play at North Dakota State, we’re all in, make no mistake about it. But even a team like Denver and Daniel Amigo, he is no longer there. Mike Daum can beat you so many ways and one of those is in the post. I think some of his best offense is on the screen and roll and picking and popping.
That’s why I’m excited with some of the things Deng can bring to us as we move him around position wise. He can guard multiple people at times, he’s a tough guard for guys because he can stretch the floor and shoot it. As cognizant as we are about being big, strong and physical, it’s also the skill. It’s becoming more of a skill game than the old Big Ten street fight that it used to be.
Talk about UND coming into the conference. I know you have played them the last few seasons, but what does it mean to have them back in the same conference as the Bison?
It certainly adds something because they’re conference games. Winning that Summit League and going to the NCAA Tournament, those are our goals and so anytime a team is standing between those goals, it’s a big deal. I’m also very happy and excited from a lot of standpoints, it’s two games on the schedule, it’s very fun for our fanbase and from a travel and budget standpoint, it’s very easy and convenient.
Probably the biggest thing is you look at our league and league stability and now it’s another team within our league. Now with the offices in Sioux Falls, there’s a lot of teams in the I-29 corridor with North Dakota being one of them.
Because guys like Jared Samuelson and Chris Quayle rely on jump shots for a lot of their offense, how do you coach consistency? Is there a certain recipe if a guy misses a few shots in a row?
We know Jared Samuelson is an elite level shooter and Chris Quayle is a high-level shooter as well. The big thing is a phrase we use within our program, NBA, next best action, you can’t control what just happened, you can certainly learn from it, but if you’re going to let a failure affect you or let a failure define you, you’re going to limit your success going forward. Especially a guy like Jared, he is as tough and as self-confident a young man that I’ve been around.
You just gotta keep shooting, you know? Keep shooting when you’re hot, keep shooting when you’re not and as you look at the game and our roster and personnel, guys that can shoot it at a high level are a big part of our success.
How has Tyson Ward improved over the offseason to where he becomes “the guy” for you in 2018-19?
He’s done some great things in the weight room to help him physically for the long haul of the season. The biggest thing for all of us media, fans, Tyson, myself, is to understand that Paul Miller was a scorer, that was his mentality. When you look at Tyson, he has the ability to affect the game in so many ways. He’s got great length and athleticism to make him a good defender, he sees the floor and has a high IQ, he can really get involved, he offensive rebounds very well, his jump shot has improved from a consistency standpoint.
We need Tyson to play well, he understands that, but playing well doesn’t necessarily mean going out there and scoring 20 or 25 points. Tyson has the ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor at so many levels. When you look at a box score after a game and to the right of Tyson Ward’s name there are a lot of numbers, a lot of stats because that’s what he’s capable of.
No seniors on this roster, how do you find leadership this season? And how do you boost those junior and sophomores into taking on more of a leadership role?
It just kind of happens a little bit. It’s crazy because we lose three great guys in Paul, A.J. and Spencer, but those eight guys that came back, the way they’ve grabbed the six new guys and you hear it 1-14, 14-1, how tight they are. It happens in different ways, Jared Samuelson consistently shows up and goes about his business and people take note of that. Even a guy like Jordan Horn, he’s just had some different life experiences that some of our guys have not and Jordan is not afraid to ask a question, he’s not afraid to tell somebody they need to be better.
They like each other, but they’re not afraid to challenge and compete against one another. From my perspective, it’s a lot of fun to see them take ownership of the program, to see them coach each other and hold each other accountable. It’s a lot of fun to go to practice, it’s a lot of fun coming out of practice because you feel you can coach basketball and enjoy it. That’s a big part of who I am as a coach. If we can be tough and together and have some of those leadership things that we maybe didn’t have the last couple of years, I’m excited about the possibilities.