The Bison men’s basketball team is coming off a season for the ages. after losing six seniors from last season’s team, the 2014-15 Bison will look to reload and revamp themselves into Summit League contenders, all while playing inside a temporary home at Scheels Arena.
Dave Richman | Men’s Basketball Coach
The 1990 Bison football team was arguably the best football team ever assembled at North Dakota State University. Led by Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer turned-radio-color commentator Phil Hansen and the offensive juggernaut of Tony Satter and Chris Simdorn, the undefeated Bison won the Division II National Championship.
Fans adored the Bison, watching with anticipation to see how much they would win by each game at Dacotah Field. The same angst was felt towards what was developing just north of the gridiron.
FargoDome plans were approved in late 1988 and construction began the following year. Over the following seasons, the football team was displaced to Cardinal Muench for practice. What could have easily been a distraction for the Bison was a minor hurdle they overcame with poise. Jump to 2014 and the men’s basketball program is facing a similar challenge.
First-year Head Coach Dave Richman will be tested with obstacles all season with his young roster. The Bison lost six seniors, three of them starters, from a team that won the Summit League championship and a NCAA Tournament game, the first in NDSU’s11-year Division I history.
On top of personnel changes, the Bison are also calling a new facility home while Sanford Health Athletic Complex construction continues. The Bison will play 14 games this season at Scheels Arena and again next year until construction at the SHAC is complete October 2016.
The Halberstadt’s-clad Richman wanted to avoid the facility distraction, so he brought someone in before a practice who has played and was successful amid transition.
“When I went in to talk to them, the first thing I thought about was that Hoosiers movie when they get to the big game and they take out the tape measurer and the basket is still ten feet from the floor and the dimensions are still the same,” Bills hall of fame enshrinee Phil Hansen said. “Yeah, there’s going to be some transition, some turmoil and everything won’t be perfect. But there are a lot of things that will remain exactly the same.”
Hansen explained the transition will eventually become routine for the players, and they will have more important things to worry about once the schedule picks up with games every week.
The Bison were picked to finish fifth this season in the Summit League, as outsiders view the Bison as a rebuilding team, due to the loss of three seniors.
Not only is the location of the court different this season, the starting five has changed immensely.
One of the heroes from the Oklahoma upset, Carlin Dupree, has earned his way into the starting rotation, said Richman. The sophomore guard from Milwaukee was not redshirted last season by Saul Phillips because of his ability to back up Alexander at the point. Dupree played in 25 games last season in a limited role, but shined when it mattered most in the NCAA Tournament, scoring four points in overtime after Taylor Braun fouled out.
Forward Chris Kading also saw extensive minutes in last year’s tournament with TrayVonn Wright getting
himself into foul trouble in the second and third round games. Kading will be injected into the Bison starting lineup for the first time this season along with Dupree.
A lesser-known asset cracking the starting five will be redshirt freshman and local Fargoian, AJ Jacobson. The Bison lineup may look small on paper, but that’s a transition Richman said he is ready to make.
“We’re going to have to find some different ways to score, there’s no question,” Richman said. “But our identity always on offense is we have to take care of the ball; take care of the ball and take good shots.”
Taking care of the ball shouldn’t be a problem for the Bison with returning point guard Lawrence Alexander ready to start his 100th game. The one they call “L.A.” has averaged over 34 of a possible 40 minutes every season during his Bison career. Already a 1,000-point scorer, L.A. will be the featured ball handler once again for Richman and his staff.
Returning to the starting lineup for a third year is junior guard Kory Brown, who has built a
reputation as being a menace on defense. But fans want to know when Brown will take the next step on offense.
“He’s been all over the offensive glass and his shot has been better than what people give him credit for,” said Richman. “He’s not a guy that’s going to be a high volume shooter by any means, but he’s definitely a guy that has a shot that keeps the defense honest.”
Brown has been a lightly-used shooter on offense, averaging just over four field goal attempts a game
during his career. But his field goal percentage rivals Marshall Bjorklund’s at 58 percent last year.
From a production standpoint, returning starters L.A. and Brown will be relied on heavily, but it’s the off-the-court adjustments that Richman has been satisfied with.
“I think from a vocal leadership standpoint, I think Kory Brown has been dynamite,” Richman said. “Lawrence Alexander has done a tremendous job in practice leading by example, and then Chris Kading is a guy we need to be more vocal and he’s done that over the past few weeks.”
What to Expect:
The Bison come into the season without four of its five leading scorers from last season’s Summit League Championship campaign. With six seniors graduating last year, Richman said it’s natural to expect a young team.
The Bison bring in seven freshmen this season, including Jacobson. But Richman said he doesn’t see
the youth changing the culture NDSU Athletics has built over the years. “Winning is a mentality,” said Richman. “And our guys, especially Lawrence and Kory, they know how to do that.” Richman said. “They know how to win in the Summit League. Now let’s see how quickly they can bring the guys along with them and get them on par with that, too.”
The Bison will open their season with two tough road tests against Texas and Iowa before returning to Fargo for their regular season Scheels debut against Kennesaw State.
The women’s basketball team has been in the middle of an identity crisis over the past handful of seasons. But with new head coach Maren Walseth, the Bison will look to regain their supremacy in women’s basketball.
Maren Walseth | Women’s Basketball Coach
In 2007, the Penn State women’s basketball program was in flux. Long time head coach Rene Portland resigned after 27 seasons with the Lady Lions amid a scandal involving a former player.
Not only was Penn State without a coach and with a bruise on its program to overcome, it had endured two-straight sub-.500 seasons after 12 conference championships and 21 NCAA tournament appearances in 25 years. It was time for a change.
A culture change is what slowly developed the following season, although it may not have reflected in the wins column. Coquese Washington was named head coach at Penn State in the spring of 2007. It was tough sledding for Washington in her first season. The Lady Lions finished 10th in the Big Ten and experienced another losing season in 2008-09.
The Lady Lions may have kept losing, but Washington was in the process of rebuilding a once proud women’s basketball program. In 2012, Penn State won its first Big Ten championship in seven years and won again the next two seasons. Washington has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year three consecutive seasons. The Penn State women’s basketball program was back on top.
Assisting Washington at Penn State over the past seven years has been Penn State alum, Maren Walseth
Walseth enters her first season as women’s head coach in a similar situation when she entered the program at Penn State. She is looking to use the lessons learned by witnessing Washington build a conference championship-winning program after years of despair.
“The lack of wins last year and what not don’t intimidate me,” Walseth said this summer. “They don’t scare me because I have walked into that situation before and have been a part of a rebuilding process.” Walseth said she recognizes the similarities in Penn State in 2007 and NDSU in 2014, but sees more than just the lack of winning.
The women’s basketball history of success is one of the strongest you can find in the country. With five NCAA Division II championships, three-time runner-ups and six conference championships, success is in the DNA of Bison basketball.
It’s now Walseth’s mission to restore order. “I was a good fit for this position,” Walseth said. “There was the history and there was the great team, then there weren’t very many wins to build a program again, and I have been through those situations, where to other people perhaps scary, but to me it was comforting.”
Ready To Go:
The Bison were picked to finish last in the Summit League preseason poll. But don’t tell them that. The first game of the season, the Bison beat Kent State, 74-68, at the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse and Walseth’s new playing style was on display early.
“She wants us to play up-tempo, and I think we have done well to get used to that and I think it’s going to stay and it will do well for us,” said junior forward Marena Whittle.
With the Bison lacking size in the interior, they will have to rely on their speed at the guard position. Senior Brooke LeMar returns for her second season at NDSU, and if history tells us anything, it’s that LeMar likes to run-and-gun.
Last season, former head coach Carolyn DeHoff described LeMar’s speed as quicker than former 1,000-point scorer Katie Birkel. “She runs with the ball as fast as she runs without the ball. She’s really right with her handles and is a really good decision maker, too.”
Joining LeMar in the backcourt is another speedster and player with experience, Kahla Becken. The junior enters the season with eight career starts, but will be LeMar’s complementary piece leading an up-tempo charge.
“Maren’s vision says we need to improve everyday,” assistant coach Keith Dickhundt said. “We cannot take a day off. They say it takes 31 days to build a habit, well we go seven days in a row and take a day off, then we have to start that 31 days over again.”
The Bison players’ and coaches’ confidence certainly wasn’t derailed by the preseason poll, and that’s a part of rebuilding the winning tradition for the women’s basketball team.
With Coach Washington’s blue print, Walseth is ready to be the architect for a new, more successful women’s basketball team.