The NDSU basketball team has scoffed in the face of adversity and plans to continue growing as one this season.
Photo By J. Alan Paul Photography
Dexter Werner, Carlin Dupree, Paul Miller and A.J. Jacobson are not only the upperclassmen leading the charge for the men’s basketball team on the court, they’re a vital piece of the culture building process. These four mainstays have played a lot of basketball together, but they want to let Bison Nation know they’re just hitting their stride.
For head coach Dave Richman, it’s always been about three factors when recruiting the next generation of Bison basketball players.
What type of person you are.
How good of a student are you in the classroom.
And, then, if you can be competitive in a strong Summit League conference.
Over and over again, fans and reporters alike read and listen to NDSU men’s head basketball coach cover the three main factors in what to expect from incoming recruits. It was more of the same during the early signing period on November 9.
“I want to make this loud and clear,” Richman said at the podium after announcing the three newest members of the basketball program. “What we do all the time starts with who you are as a person. Secondly, what kind of student you are and third, what talent and potential you have, and the opportunity you have to be in this program.”
It’s a strong group of reasons to bring in a recruit. In theory, it sounds great. It’s to the point and what people want to hear. But sometimes, these statements get so ingrained in the vocabulary of coaches that it tends to pass as coach-speak or the politically correct way to pitch your program to fans. So are Richman and NDSU practicing what they preach?
You better believe it. It’s always been about the people first and learning life lessons along the way for the Bison basketball program. Richman proved it last year when he made the tough decision to sit his leading scorer for one game. It wasn’t against a nonconference, Minnesota State-Morris type of opponent, either. He made the decision in the middle of the Summit League Tournament.
This was the semifinals—a do or die game—against the No. 1 seed in the tournament. It was a bold statement with NDSU’s season hanging in the balance.
Paul Miller, who scored 12 points in 32 minutes against IUPUI in the quarterfinals, was suspended for “not meeting expectations,” according to Richman. In Miller’s absence, Carlin Dupree stepped in. Earlier that January, the junior had a two-week hiatus from the team.
Dupree missed six games during a crucial stretch of the season and what did he bounce back and do with the season on the line? He poured in 22 points in 38 minutes, including the game-winning bucket with four seconds left.
Dupree left the team in January after a loss to Oral Roberts. Three games earlier, he lost his starting job to freshman point guard Khy Kabellis. Dupree left the team on what was reported as a dispute with Richman over playing time.
“I don’t support the decision, but I support Carlin,” Richman said after announcing his departure. Two weeks later, Richman and the team opened their arms back to Dupree.
“It’s important that if you ever have a situation in life, first and foremost you have to communicate,” Dupree says now reflecting on the lesson he learned last January. “If you don’t communicate, certain things can be interpreted incorrectly or misunderstood. I feel like when that communication takes place, it can help you and that individual in that situation or people in the situation.”
What was communicated loud and clear was Richman and the Bison basketball family weren’t going to leave one of their brothers in the dust. Richman and NDSU’s team showed they’re character, yet again, in welcoming Dupree back to the family.
NDSU’s culture is starting to bleed its way into the minds of players and coaches across the nation. Even this year, when Richman needed to find two more assistants to fill out his staff, he didn’t have to look hard to find someone chomping at the bit to come to Fargo.
“I respect the little things that he’s done,” first-year assistant Kyan Brown said. Brown, who’s spent the last eight seasons in Tulsa, Oklahoma, assisting Scott Sutton and the Oral Roberts basketball program, filled a vacancy on Richman’s staff this May. Brown took notice of Richman standing by his word when he suspended Miller in the conference tournament and when he allowed Dupree back on the team. “I think a lot of coaches talk about that, but when it comes time to do it, I don’t know many guys that follow through with it.”
Will Veasley, another new assistant, along with Brown, sees the similarities between NDSU and the program he played for at Butler. “More from a culture standpoint,” explained Veasley. “The beliefs of holding each other accountable on the court, off the court, servant leadership and just being good people, and we value our kids.”
NDSU’s culture has brought them to four Summit League Championship games in a row. The Bison were ranked third in the conference’s preseason poll this fall, but they know, with the tight bond on and off the court, expectations will always exceed what outsiders tend to believe is possible.
Cleaning Up Turnovers
One of the most astonishing facts about the men’s basketball team was that they ranked 23rd in the country in turnovers last year, averaging 10.5 per game. At the same time, they ranked 331st out of 346 teams in assists with, you guessed it, 10.5, a game.
NDSU’s two lead guards, senior Carlin Dupree and sophomore Khy Kabellis, will do most of the ball-handling this season. If the beginning of the season is any indicator, they will share the backcourt through the nonconference games this season. This means most of the facilitating and ball possession will fall on their plate.
The duo only shared the backcourt five times last season, including the final two games of the Summit League Tournament. Kabellis took over the point position at the beginning of league play and saw his assist to turnover ratio fall back to about 1:1 from about 3:1 when he was coming off the bench during nonconference play.
The freshman took his share of lumps last season but is emerging as an on-the-court leader for the Bison this season as a sophomore.
“We challenged him the other day to lead the league in assists, lead our team in assists and make open jump shots,” head coach Dave Richman said prior to NDSU’s trip to the High Point Tournament in North Carolina. “He’s got a bright future and I say that only because Khy wants to have a bright future. Khy works at having a bright future.”
Kabellis’s wingman in the backcourt, Dupree, has been plagued with the turnover bug for the majority of his career. The senior from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, handled the ball tremendously well his sophomore season, leading the Bison in assists with 86 and committed fewer than two turnovers a game. Last season, Dupree digressed, ultimately costing him his job.
“Definitely my decision-making,” Dupree admitted was the reason behind his high turnover rate last season. “I think I was rushing too much, not patient enough.”
Kabellis and Dupree’s teammates have shown the utmost confidence in the guards to lead them this season. Specifically, A.J. Jacobson, who says it will help free him up off the ball to setup for open shots.
“It’s awesome to have both those guys out there,” Jacobson said. “They’re two guys that can facilitate plays and can get into the paint and create shots for guys like me, guys like Paul (Miller). I think they’ve been playing really well together and are starting to mesh really well out there together and hopefully as the season goes on, they get more and more comfortable playing together.”
It was a challenging road back to the court for A.J. Jacobson this preseason. Eight weeks before the season tipped- off against Arkansas State, Jacobson tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his shooting thumb. The injury kept him off the practice court for seven weeks. He was finally able to return a week prior to the Arkansas State game.
Head Coach Dave Richman was able to see Jacobson was fresh the week leading up to the game, but was worried the rust was affecting his scoring ability. Richman said he wasn’t good at all during Thursday’s practice.
Jacobson’s rust certainly didn’t show in the first game a day later. The junior was four-of-five from the field and was active defensively.
“What you can’t put a quantifiable mark on, so to speak, is how tough somebody is, what kind of competitor somebody is,” Richman said. “The kid got out there and just started flying around and competing, making plays that didn’t really pertain to how he was playing offensively, and I thought that relaxed him offensively and he played well.”
What’s been the most surprising aspect of Jacobson’s game early this season has been his work defensively. Through two games, Jacobson already had seven blocks, the amount he had in 28 games his freshman season, and he already has half as many blocks as he did as a sophomore.
Richman said Jacobson has always been a smart defender. The only difference now is his body. Jacobson even caught the attention of head football coach Chris Klieman this offseason, when Klieman told Richman in the weight room that Jacobson looks like a different kid.
“He’s not a superior athlete in the Summit League and he doesn’t have great size or unbelievable strength to him,” Richman said. “But he makes up for that in basketball intelligence, and understanding who he is guarding, personnel base. But also that toughness, (he’s) not afraid to stick his nose in.”
Jacobson is out to a fast start in his junior season. His work defensively has rounded his overall game into shape, which is bad news for the rest of the Summit League. With Jacobson taking the next leap in his game and a team fueled to get back into the NCAA tournament, the NDSU men’s basketball team is ready to take the mid-major basketball scene by storm.