Photo By Hillary Ehlen
While college basketball coaches are focused on the season at hand, they must also focus on the future too. Much of this occurs in the way of recruiting, with teams across the nation stockpiling assets to replace their graduating players.
North Dakota State is no different in that respect. Dave Richman has gathered a tremendous group of younger players to carry the Bison into the future. However, these young guys are ready to contribute in 2019-20. This only bolsters an already deep Bison roster.
Many of these young athletes proved they are worthy of minutes during the regular season and on the team’s foreign trip this summer. Playing three games against Puerto Rican teams on foreign soil, it provided opportunities to players who may not have seen regular minutes last season. Because of this, fans should likely get used to hearing these names called over the Scheels Center PA system.
One of the stars in Puerto Rico was sophomore Jaxon Knotek, who proved himself to be a dynamic scorer for NDSU. It was that skill that drew attention to Knotek from Richman and his staff. He averaged 20.4 points per game his senior year at River Falls High School in Wisconsin.
In NDSU’s opening win over Guayama Brujos, Knotek led the team with 14 points. NDSU was able to take the game by a bucket, winning 66-64. While senior Vinnie Shahid led the way in the scoring column in NDSU’s second game against Guaynabo Mets, Knotek scored another 14 points. The Bison won that game 93-84.
To round out the Puerto Rico excursion, Knotek poured in a team-high 23 points in a 93-74 win over Guaynabo Mets. North Dakota State finished their foreign trip undefeated against Puerto Rican teams and Knotek averaged 17 points per game in those three games. “It was a great experience. Being able to be with my teammates and have a good time was fun,” Knotek said of the foreign trip.
One of Knotek’s best qualities is his jump-shooting ability. He has proved to be a valuable marksman from long and mid-range. Knotek played in 11 games as a true freshman last season and had a career-high seven points against Dickinson State on January 6. Working with senior sharpshooter Jared Samuelson has elevated that ability as well.
“Me and Jared [Samuelson] love to shoot together. He’s obviously a really good shooter, one of the best. Being able to take knowledge from him is a great thing,” he said.
Moving into this season, Knotek wants to be nimble in his role. He is aware he will see more minutes than last season, but he wants to maximize the time he does receive in 2018-19. “Doing whatever my team needs me to do. Fulfilling that role and being a team player,” Knotek said of his mindset on 2019-20.
When it comes to expectations, Knotek is not worried about them. He knows the basketball season is a process for this year’s Bison squad. “We’re not really thinking about it. It’s about working hard and trusting the process and working together as hard as we can,” he said.
Odell Wilson IV is a name Bison fans have heard in the past. A redshirt freshman from Minneapolis, Wilson was a highly-touted recruit out of Minneapolis North High School. Wilson’s 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame was what jumped off the page for several, including Dave Richman. While he took a redshirt season in 2018-19, he became a beloved teammate for all.
Now affectionately known at “Biggs”, Wilson is ready to become an overbearing post presence for the Bison. Wilson was a Mr. Basketball finalist in Minnesota his senior season after averaging 21 points and nine rebounds. He played major minutes during the team’s foreign trip in Puerto Rico. In three games, Wilson scored 28 total points, averaging just under 10 points per game for the trip.
Like Wilson, junior transfer Tyler Witz will provide a needed post presence for the Bison. Both possess back to the basket skills and interior defensive abilities that will aid NDSU in a physical Summit League. Witz, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward came to NDSU in the offseason from Olney Central College in Illinois. He averaged seven points and four rebounds in 62 games for Olney Central. Witz also shot an efficient 59 percent from the field.
On the foreign trip, Witz scored 22 total points, averaging seven points per game. In the team’s final contest, a win over Guaynabo Mets, Witz scored 14 points, a high for him on the Puerto Rico trip.
Of this group of young Bison, Jarius Cook is perhaps the most seasoned. The sophomore from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, played in 18 games as a true freshman last season. While he averaged three points per game, he saw valuable minutes in Summit League play. Cook also scored in double figures once, scoring 10 against East Tennessee State on November 24. He also scored six points against Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
Over the course of three games in Puerto Rico, Cook scored 22 total points, including nine in the team’s second game against Guaynabo Mets. The guard is poised to see solid minutes this season thanks to his ability to score and spot-up shoot.
It is safe to say that Bison basketball is in good hands for the foreseeable future. However, these four do not live in the future, they live in the present. Rather than wait for their time to shine, they are fighting for valuable 2019-20 minutes each and every day at practice. In turn, they are not only making themselves better players but also improving their teammates around them.
Rounding Out The Rotation
#23 Maleeck Harden-Hayes
Hometown: Moorhead, Minnesota
Averaged 12 points per game on the team’s foreign trip, including 15 in their final game.
#12 Noah Christensen
Hometown: Breckenridge, Minnesota
Registered buckets in two of the three games in Puerto Rico. Comes to NDSU after scoring 1,861 career points for Breckenridge High School