SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Somewhere between accepting the North Dakota State head men’s basketball position in 2014 and the drubbing of the University of North Dakota on Tuesday night, Dave Richman made a decision. There will be no compromising of only taking players with a team-first attitude.
It’s as if a sure-fire NBA first round draft choice with a me-first ego would not last more than a day.
“I think you saw it tonight, it’s the way our guys play together,” said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen, moments after the Bison defeated UND 89-53 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center. “There’s a great connection between our players and I think that’s a big part of it.”
It was the program’s fifth Summit tournament title and consequently will be the fifth trip to the NCAA Division I tournament. It was the third for Richman and for that reason alone, because it is the Big Dance, makes him the all-time most accomplished coach in program history.
Saul Phillips led the Bison to the first two NCAA appearances before he moved on to Ohio University. In Division II, Tom Billeter reached the NCAA tournament four times. Erv Inniger won 244 games from 1978-92 and is far and away the winningest NDSU head coach, but he won one conference title and reached the national tournament twice.
Richman took the 2014 Bison team to the NCAA tournament with a team primarily composed of Phillips’ players. Although a case can be made as a Bison assistant Richman had a hand in the formation of that team.
He’s done it the last two years with his players. When it comes to recruiting, Richman makes no bones that he doesn’t want players who upset the apple cart. No matter how good they are.
“I get accused of not smiling enough so I’m going to sit up here and smile,” Richman said during Tuesday’s postgame press conference. “It feels really good. You see it, these are unbelievable young men. I don’t want to take anything away from who they are as basketball players but they represent myself, my family, this program, this state and this university in such a positive way. And it’s special. A lot of them did it back-to-back.”
A lot players like guard Vinnie Shahid and forward Tyson Ward, the two leading scorers who were part of a team-wide spot-on effort against UND. The 36-point margin of victory was the largest in Summit tournament history.
Shahid quickly immersed himself into the team after coming from two-year Western Nebraska Community College. Ward, from Tampa, Fla., developed into a team leader over the course of his four years.
They probably wouldn’t have lasted if they didn’t do the job off the court. It’s a job that seniors take seriously, Larsen said.
“Vinnie Shahid is not going to put up with that,” Larsen said. “Tyson Ward is not going to put up with that. And Dave’s not going to put up with that. And that’s what I think makes our program special on a lot of levels. It’s not just your coaches leading, you have upperclassmen leading and there are high expectations and high standards.”
The Bison will now wait until Sunday to find out where they’ll go for the first and second round regional. Whatever the case, it will be 14 players who are living a basketball life the Richman way.
“I think they enjoy playing together and that’s half the battle,” Larsen said. “The grind is really hard but when you’re in it together and you go through it together, I think that goes a long way.”