The dynamic duo of Saul Phillips and Gene Taylor had helped revitalize the men’s basketball program, brought a desperately needed new facility to Bison Athletics and made NDSU history by bringing the men’s basketball team to the NCAA Tournament and beyond. With so much behind them, the only question is what’s next?
What does the NCAA Tournament run mean for the athletic program?
“First and foremost I was just so happy for these kids on the basketball team. To get the national attention and exposure that they deserve, and for Saul and for his coaches to be on that stage and to have that success because what that brings to the program in terms of national recognition, you can’t measure. But I tell you what, those kids deserve it. And then the way they handled themselves, both in the victory to Oklahoma and then with the loss to San Diego State just showed a lot about who they are as a program and who they were as people. They represented us extremely well.”
What does all this national media exposure bring to NDSU?
“You know, we live in a kind of conservative, quiet, very prideful group of fans and alumni of North Dakota State, but I think what it does is it brings out an even greater in terms of You walk down the street and you’ve got an NDSU shirt on or an NDSU sweatshirt, people recognize who that is now. You can not put a price tag on that. I think it increases the amount of pride and increases the amount of people who want to get connected to our university not just in athletics, but the university in general. I’ve had so many stories all across the country. I just heard one this afternoon of a group that was snow skiing in Montana and as soon as we won, they were up on top of a mountain, they took (off) their gear, they had bison gear on. And took off their upper jackets, and people in the ski lifts were cheering. So things like that, you can’t put a price tag on it. And what it does is just really raises the level of pride in our institution and pride in our athletic program and reconnects with our alumni across the country.”
What kind of effort and time commitment have people within the NDSU Athletic Department put in this season?
“You got to understand since August, everybody has been going non-stop. Whether it’s the marketing staff or the ticketing staff or the athletic training staff. Going from a football program that plays well into January, right into basketball, a highly visible basketball program, a wrestling program. I mean wrestlers in Oklahoma City, we had a group go to New Mexico for our women’s track program, the hours just don’t stop. We got right off the plane from Spokane (Wash.) and to my staff I said, ‘Well, I guess we got a few weeks off.’ And they said, ‘No, we have spring football Saturday.’ So the amount of hours these kids put in is phenomenal. And they do it in support of our coaches and athletes and that’s the kind of the reason they all come to work every day is to make our student athletes have the best experience that they possibly could have.”
Basketball wasn’t the only successful team, wrestling had a nice run.
“You know Rodger (Kish) came in and had a lot of big shoes to fill with Bucky’s (Maughan) and to go out in the second year as head coach and have an All-American and this year he has a third place that easily could have been second place, that’s huge for our wrestling program and huge for Rodger and his recruits. To finish 21st on a national stage with arguably the best wrestling programs in the country, you know, it does get overshadowed and I hope people recognize how lucky we are to have that much success across all of our sports. We have a women’s 4×400 team that at one point was ranked 9th in the country, finished 11th from North Dakota State and you look at the teams they competed against, it’s Arkansas, UCLA, USC, Stanford. Those kind of things just don’t happen in a lot of places. As a matter of fact North Dakota State was the only 4×400 relay team who didn’t have a lot of other… that had a third place finish so it’s a phenomenal opportunity that we are enjoying right now as fans and as administrators and as coaches. The success we are having, I hope our fans recognize how fortunate we are and I think they do.”
What do your peers in the Summit League and Missouri Valley say about all this success?
“They’re very congratulatory. They appreciate it, but they also realize how difficult and how unique it is what we are accomplishing here. They just kind of go, ‘Wow, Gene what you’ve got going on at North Dakota State. Wow, you guys are on a role. Wow, I can’t believe some of the things you are doing.’ I mean those are when you get that from your colleagues who understand it, it’s quite a compliment to our staff and coaches. They would love to be in our shoes here, they realize how difficult it is but at the same time they are very appreciative to see North Dakota State in their brand new division, fairly new division I program have this much success.”
How do you keep the momentum going into next football season?
“I think obviously with Chris (Klieman) and the new football staff, there’s going to be a lot of excitement a lot of expectations. That’s the one thing this program has had, is high expectations. And I think that’s what makes it special and I think every coach strives to match that. So we’re not competitive internally, but we all support one another. The Tod Browns in spring sports right now, and the track programs, they want to win a conference championship, they want to go to the NCAA tournament because they’ve seen their colleagues do it. Next year Chris and his group are going to be motivated to get back to the playoffs and make a run and Saul and his group have already said, ‘Hey we’re coming back here we’re going to do this again.’ So I think just that constant internal drive among one another just to win conference championships and make noise at the national level. These kids experience it so your juniors they’re coming back, they’re driven to experience it again. So you just hopefully keep having success and winning conference championships and making tournaments.”
How much does Team Makers help the program?
“We don’t have the success we’ve had without that. You look at our fans who truck down to Frisco, and the number of fans that were out in Spokane, Wash. Jack Maughan said we had a really, really good outstanding crowd down in Oklahoma City for wrestling. We have extremely supportive fans, not only financially do they support us but following us whether it be on social media or watching on TV. I heard that every place in town was sold out for the two basketball games. I mean that kind of support just doesn’t happen and we don’t have that success without that fan base. And we can’t ever thank them enough and we need to thank them more. But we are very very lucky to have the support that we do.”
Just a little update on the BSA project?
“We’ll probably get started sometime by the time the next magazine comes out and next time people walk in here there will be construction going on.”
Anything you want to say to the fans?
“Just enjoy it as much as we are enjoying it and I hope the fan base is having as much fun as we’re having. It doesn’t happen all the time and we want to continue it and understand that we can’t continue it without their support and there’s a lot of things they can support and with this project we still have some room to go and whoever wants to help with that we’ll be happy to talk to them.”
Saul Phillips Interview
How did the fan support grow throughout the season?
“Certainly we tried to put the word out there that we thought this could be a pretty good special group right away, but you know there were other entertainment options going on early in the season. You know, I think consistently, when there was good weather on a Saturday we drew really, really well. A lot of our big moments occurred away from the BSA early in the year, fortunately we got to celebrate a conference championship at home here and have some really neat games down the stretch here. It felt like it built to a crescendo.”
How did the seniors positively portray the basketball program at NDSU and the athletic department as a whole?
“I don’t know how a coach could ask any more out of a class. Not only on the court, obviously by achieving all their goals and working hard to make it happen, but off the court as well just as people in the community. I get a lot of comments from professors, from neighbors, to just people in Fargo that randomly come up and tell me a unique stories about one of my seniors. That’s pretty gratifying as a coach.”
What’s their lasting impact?
“I think they’ll do it the same way guys like Ben Woodside, Brett Winkelman and Mike Nelson did, which is a lot of them will go play in the summer, then come back here and help in terms of playing against them directly, maybe teaching them a few more tricks of the trade, but they’re certainly a group that is invested in this program. This program means more to them than just being the place they played basketball. That will never go away.”
What’s the one moment from this year’s tourney that you will remember forever?
“LA hollering ‘Buckets’ as he was falling on his backside to send the game into overtime or Carlin Dupree deciding it was his time to get some things done, playing the loudest two minutes of basketball in the history of the NCAA tournament.”
Where did this surge from Carlin come from?
“One of the reasons we put him in was to A: break the press and B: the guy is fearless. I knew the moment wouldn’t be too big for him. I don’t think he probably had a whole lot of time to think about of big the moment actually was before he went in and made two of the biggest plays of his life.”
What are some of the differences coaching in the NCAA tournament compared to a regular game?
“The game itself is the same and you’re actually relieved when you get to the games because everything else is different. The scope of it, the amount of people reaching out to you. It’s actually really peaceful when you’re in the game. You don’t stop to think ‘Wow, I’m playing in front of a lot of people right now.’ The biggest difference is the timeouts. They’re two and a half minutes long and I can’t talk to my team for that long. So we actually went out and pretended to huddle, didn’t really say anything, just huddled as a staff before we went into the huddle with the team so I didn’t have that awkward 30 seconds of silence. I’m used to a minute or a minute thirty. That’s a long time to talk.”
How would you explain the Bison culture to someone that is new on the staff?
“Just pop in a DVD of the past few weeks and pick your moment. Listen, for two days we were bonafide rockstars across America. And you can do that from right here in Fargo, N.D. That’s a – That’s a pretty cool thing. And the other thing is, I would just have them walk around the athletic department with me and just have them talk to the people that work here. It’s a great place to be. My boss is someone I will consider my friend for the rest of my life, and that’s a pretty good place to be.”
How has Gene Taylor made life easier for coaches at NDSU?
“I would say this: I have never felt that Gene had unrealistic or unfair expectations of me. He’s there for guidance when you need it, and he knows sometimes you just need work through things. He’s not overbearing, yet he is still a firm and steady hand in terms of leadership. I don’t know how you teach that to someone. I think it’s just instinctual to Gene and I think, on top of it all he’s just a great person. He’s just a good dude to be around. Quality of life is a big thing for me and he has made my quality of life good around here.”
What’s next year’s team going to look like? A lot of running around?
“I don’t think old Carlin would mind running around a little bit more. We certainly, I got three or four months here where I’ll sit down and analyze everything and find which direction we’re going. I think we got the ability to be a pretty high octane scoring team. But I know this, regardless of what we do next year, the product in November isn’t gonna be as nearly as its going to be in March because we have a lot of growing to do and guys getting used to playing more minutes. It will be challenges but you just start building sooner rather than later. I have nowhere to be but the top of the league forever. It’s just more fun, you know.”