Fargo

Tyson Ward is in Tampa, Fla. Vinnie Shahid is in Minneapolis. But the glitz of the big cities is not so glamorous for the former North Dakota State basketball stars these days.

They’re trying to figure out the best route to professional basketball and are doing it in near isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic. And the first step is hiring an agent, a process that Shahid compares to college recruiting.

“The (agents) are like college coaches, the only thing is it’s more consistent than college recruiting,” he said. “It’s very similar in the sense of phone calls and face-to-face interactions and sometimes you cut your list like a college.”

Shahid is back in his hometown doing two things: Going to a local elementary school gym that he has access to for a workout and heading home.

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“I know somebody and they gave me a time slot where I can go in and get workouts in,” he said.

North Dakota State's Tyson Ward (left) and Vinnie Shahid celebrate after defeating North Dakota on March 10 for Summit League men's basketball tournament championshp in Sioux Falls, S.D.      Richard Carlson / Inertia
North Dakota State's Tyson Ward (left) and Vinnie Shahid celebrate after defeating North Dakota on March 10 for Summit League men's basketball tournament championshp in Sioux Falls, S.D. Richard Carlson / Inertia

He has a workout partner in former childhood teammate and University of Denver player Ade Murkey. They do various workouts and drills, “things you can add to your game and work on to get to the professional level,” Shahid said.

Whether that’s the NBA, the NBA G League or overseas, Shahid said he’s open to anything. He and Ward finished their seasons as one of the most dynamic duos in mid-major college basketball. Both were named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches all-District team this week.

They were especially potent when it counted in Summit League games. Shahid averaged 20.9 points and 3.6 assists in 16 conference games. He shot 94% from the free throw line, a figure accentuated by the fact the ball was usually in his hands when the Bison held leads late in games. He became just the sixth player in Bison history to top 600 points in one season.

Ward averaged 19.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists in league play. Like Shahid, his accuracy was uncanny shooting 59% from the field and 49% from 3-point range. He had at least 20 points in the last six games of his career.

The hope was there would have been at least one more game, but the NCAA Division I tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. It meant the final game of their careers was the 89-53 victory over the University of North Dakota in the Summit tournament title game.

That will have to suffice as their one shining moment.

“We didn’t go out with a loss, that’s always a good thing,” Ward said. “But you have those what ifs and that was a what-if season. It would have been a lot better to finish rather than pursue that what-if.”

Most NCAA bracket prognosticators had NDSU pegged as a No. 15 seed. Some had the Bison labeled as a dangerous first-round opponent because of the standout senior point guard and a tough matchup with the 6-foot-6 Ward.

“I did, too,” Ward said. “I really did.”

As it is, Shahid said the Summit tournament title game will go down as his favorite Bison memory.

“It sucks that it happened but all we can do is be happy that we got to end it on a win,” he said. “Not many teams get to do that. It hurt in the moment, it happened but when you sit back and reflect, you understand you were part of something special.”

Social distancing for Ward consists of working out with his father and gym owner, Chris Ward. Tyson said he hopes to get to Las Vegas when the pandemic subsides to work out with a trainer and other players.

“They’ll try to get me stronger and develop those areas that the scouts say I need to get better at and develop my game into the pro style,” he said. “I need to transition my game from NDSU to pro.”

Both players still talk every day by cellphone, asking each other how they’re doing in light of the basic closure of America.

“We’re making sure we’re both getting better and both are enjoying the process of signing with an agent,” Shahid said. “Some people dream to do this and we’re embracing and enjoying the time while we can.”