Photo By Zachary Hanby
At the beginning of each basketball season, since I started at BisonReport, I’ve been afforded the chance to sit down and speak to men’s basketball head coach David Richman. It usually goes for about 20 or 25 minutes as he and I reflect on the season past, discuss the incoming recruiting class and forecast the upcoming year. I had the chance to do the very same before this season.
2017-18 was not a fun season for The Herd. They should have been set up for greatness. Everyone knows that mid-major basketball is run by guards and North Dakota State was set up with two really good ones. Paul Miller is one of the top five scorers in North Dakota State history and was a senior. Khy Kabellis had taken a huge step in his development as a sophomore and was headed for his junior season.
Then everything changed. Kabellis chose to transfer out of the program. The Bison were left with a freshman point guard in Cameron Hunter and virtually no backup plan. The Bison struggled, as would a ship without a captain. Their 5-9 conference record was their worst mark since entering the Summit League full-time.
That created relatively low expectations for the 2018-19 Bison. They were picked to finish fifth in the league, and fans of the program didn’t really throw a fit or disagree. It made sense.
An idea that perhaps made even more sense was that this team was building for “next year”. The Bison roster had no seniors. Theoretically, if they could keep the group together the following year, they could be something special. The league would lose Zach Jackson from Omaha, John Konchar from Fort Wayne and Mike Daum from South Dakota State. The Bison would counteract that by fielding a group featuring five seniors and three juniors. They’d have a real shot.
That led me to ask a question about the marketing slogan used by the University to promote the 2018-19 season.
“Embrace the journey.”
The Bison were clearly going places, but maybe they didn’t expect to get there this season.
“That ‘Embrace the Journey’ came specifically out of my mouth,” said coach Richman. “I don’t want to make it about (this) team, I want to make it about Bison basketball. This is a game that we are playing because we love (it). If you don’t love the game, and if you don’t embrace that journey, if you don’t understand that there are some things you’re going to have to struggle through, you’ve got no chance. It’s a journey, there are a lot of sacrifices by a lot of people, a lot of things that don’t seem fun are going to lead to where we want to be.”
“Let me tell BisoNation, I’m not using age as an excuse. I’m not using anything an excuse. There are no excuses, there’s an expectation and that’s why you come to a place like this,” Richman added.
How. About. That.
Most would’ve given coach a pass this season. Vinnie Shahid was a junior college transfer. The Bison aren’t a team that takes a ton of transfers and expectations for he and the point guard position could’ve certainly been managed. Just finish at or better than the fifth-place prognostication, keep the group together and roll it out again in ‘19-20 against a “weakened” league.
As the great Lee Corso would say on a nationally televised program that may or may not have been to Fargo on an occasion or two, “Not so fast, my friend.”
The Bison finished with a winning record in the conference. They finished with a .500 record in road conference games. It was easy to see that steps were taken. After those steps, though, the Bison took The Leap.
It was a leap that was supposed to come next year, but it turned out no one on the staff or on the roster gave a rip. The Bison stormed into Sioux Falls and won three straight games, and won two of them by double digits. They were Summit League Champions, and perhaps more importantly, it was time to dance. North Dakota State was headed to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in their Division I history.
Dave Richman and his crew followed all that by taking the rest of us on a journey, and what a journey it was. There was a rather impressive physical journey that brought fans and media from Fargo to Dayton, Ohio, Columbia, South Carolina and back to Fargo in the matter of a week. There was, as always with hoops, an emotional journey. The Bison ran out to a big lead against North Carolina Central, only to give it back but ultimately prevail due to some clutch baskets from Tyson Ward.
That was followed by the utter excitement of a matchup with Duke. The Blue Devils are one of the most polarizing programs on the planet (this writer prefers the fairer shade of blue). In a love-em or hate-em situation, millions of people around the country became part of The Herd, if even for a day.
It was during that game that the Bison gave us all the best gift of all: hope. North Dakota State’s 12-5 start to the game was positively electric. Shahid’s three-point play opportunity to re-take the lead with 2:34 left in the first half breathed life back into the possibility of an upset.
Duke went on to win the second half (and game) handily. They have, after all, three NBA lottery picks on the squad and an extremely experienced head coach. The final score will never take those moments from NDSU, the coaches, the players or the fans. They were beating Duke. In the NCAA tournament.
What a ride. What a journey. What a program. What kind of journey will next year bring? I’m embracing that already.