Photos By J. Alan Paul Photography
One of the reasons the men’s basketball team was overlooked coming into the 2014-15 season was the belief they lacked depth and experience on the roster. With six seniors gone, two starters coming back and a handful of unproven talent on the bench, expectations were low. But all it took was one senior’s resolve and attitude to create a no-one-believes-in-us mindset that washed over the team. Depth quickly became a non-factor with Lawrence Alexander, AJ Jacobson and Carlin Dupree averaging over 32 minutes a game and the Bison only going seven deep. Each of these seven had vastly different roles this season and here are each of their stories.
Junior Kory Brown received fatherly advice throughout the Bison’s run through the Summit League tournament this season. Brown said it was like back in high school, when his dad came to every game during the Summit League and NCAA tournaments and sat behind the Bison bench.
“At one point, I was at the free throw line and he kind of said my routine,” said Brown replaying one scene from the free throw line during the Summit League tournament. “He said he said it quietly, but it was loud enough to where I could hear him at the line.”
“Get set, one, two, three, pause, shoot,” is what Brown heard from his father, like a flashback from high school when Brown switched his routine the last time during his sophomore season.
Whatever it was, it must have worked because the Bison earned another trip to the NCAA tournament and one of their biggest role players was there again, making big play after big play.
Now entering his last season, he said both him and fellow senior Chris Kading will need to step up as leaders and everybody will need to fulfill their roles for the Bison to return to the Big Dance.
One of the unsung heroes this season for the Bison was their big man in the middle. After losing Marshall Bjorklund, Jordan Aaberg and TrayVonn Wright, height and length were at a premium for the Bison this season.
Enter the 6-foot 8-inch Chris Kading and he more than filled the role of a tough and gritty post player. Kading’s defensive skills showed during the Summit League tournament championship game when he teamed up with Dexter Werner to contain South Dakota State’s Florida transfer, Cody Larson.
Kading credited the years battling Aaberg and Bjorklund in practice to the improvements he’s made defensively. “Those two are the best offensive bigs I’ve ever played against, so playing with them every day gave me a chance to really learn things both offensively and defensively,” said Kading. “Jordan had that length and he was able to block some shots and Marshall is as strong as anyone so that was fun.”
After averaging a block and a half during his junior season, Kading said he is looking to improve his offensive game to help the Bison make up for losing their leading scorer.
AJ Jacobson saw everything unfold in front of him first-hand last season as a redshirt at the end of the bench last season. He said he enjoyed the NCAA tournament last year because he knew if he ever got back it would be strictly business.
A year later and Jacobson was playing a key role as the second leading scorer on a Bison basketball team that overcame the shadow of doubts to return to the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive year.
Jacobson got out of the gates slow this season, but turned it on when it mattered in the Summit League tournament, earning a spot on the all-tournament team.
“I didn’t start how I wanted to start, but I just kept getting better and persevering through all that stuff,” Jacobson said. “I finished kind of where I wanted to finish, obviously there’s always room for improvement because it’s one of those things with me I just want to keep getting better.”
What exactly does the redshirt freshman want to improve on before next season? He said his focus will turn to his quickness defensively, so he can be a more diverse defender. Offensively, Jacobson said he wants to keep improving his scoring and his ability to finish near the rim.
Paul Miller started his true freshman season with a bang when he scored 17 points in a pair of games early in the season. He said he wasn’t expecting that out of the gate.
“I just wanted to go out and play my game a little bit,” said Miller, who was humbled by the early success. “I think guys really focused on LA (Lawrence Alexander) there and they knew from the start that he was our lead returning scorer, so I just got a couple open looks.”
Miller joined AJ Jacobson as part of the rotation and went out against Gonzaga by scoring 13 points against one of the premier point guards in the country, Kevin Pangos.
“He’s a very confident player that’s going to play with that swagger,” assistant coach Freddy Coleman said. “That edge — that’s going to make him special.”
Miller did go through a brief shooting slump that Coleman explained happens to a lot of freshmen because of the adjustment to the long college season.
Miller said he can’t wait to focus on his fitness this offseason with coach Jason Miller in the weight room. “So hopefully I can add more (weight) and get a basketball body like some of these guys.”