FARGO — North Dakota State senior Rocky Kreuser is the type of player who makes the Bison men’s basketball program tick.
In his fourth season in the program, the 6-foot-10 forward has developed into one of the top all-around players in the Summit League.
Kreuser is one of the reasons NDSU is off to a 4-0 start in league play for the first time since the 2016-17 season as the Bison embark on a weekend road series against the University of North Dakota.
“I’m really proud of the young man,” Bison head coach David Richman said. “We talk about development in our program and he really exemplifies that. He’s grown from year to year, from game to game.”
NDSU (6-6, 4-0 Summit) plays UND (3-10, 2-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15, at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. The teams are scheduled to play again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the same venue. Earlier this season, the Bison earned a 53-52 nonconference victory against the Fighting Hawks in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“I get the narrative, it’s a rivalry game and it means a lot to a lot of people in the Valley and throughout the state and in the region, I get that,” Richman said. “For us, it’s really important that we look at it as another opportunity to learn and grow.”
Growth has been the underlying narrative for Kreuser throughout his Bison career. His scoring average has increased every year since he joined the program. Through 12 games this season, he’s averaging 14.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 45% from the field and 40% from 3-point range.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Bison junior Sam Griesel said. “I can’t say enough about him and his leadership for all of us. It’s been really cool to see for sure.”
Kreuser is the reigning Summit League player of the week, averaging 19.0 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in two home victories against Omaha last weekend at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex. That marked the second time this season Kreuser has won the league’s weekly award.
“His leadership has been just through the roof,” Richman said. “He leads by example, he leads by voice.”
The Bison are off to a strong Summit League start this season, despite losing their top two scorers from last season in Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward. Shahid and Ward, who are now both playing professional basketball overseas, helped lead that team to the NCAA Division I tournament, which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I really took more of a leadership role this year,” said Kreuser, who leads the Bison in scoring and is tied with Griesel for the team lead in rebounds. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Kreuser, Griesel and junior guard Tyree Eady are the team’s returning players who played sizable roles last season. They have blended with younger players like sophomores Maleeck Harden-Hayes and Jarius Cook, and freshman Grant Nelson to help the Bison to the top of the Summit League standings early in the conference season.
Richman said Kreuser, Griesel and Eady have been critical cogs for the Bison program. Griesel is averaging 11.8 points per game this season, while Eady is right behind at 11.4 per contest.
“All three of them will have an impact on me that’s immeasurable,” Richman said. “At the end of the day, this is their program and I’m steering it a little bit. … I’m blessed, our staff is blessed with great kids that understand what we’re about and how we’re going to go about it.”
Kreuser appreciates the approach he’s seen from younger players in the program.
“I like to give a lot of credit to the young guys because they listen to us upperclassmen, they listen to coaches, they get better every day,” Kreuser said.
Constant improvement is one of the reasons Kreuser is nearing 1,000 points for his career. He has 902 points through 110 games for an 8.2 career scoring average. Kreuser’s rebounding average has also increased every season.
“Give Rocky all the credit,” Richman said. “He’s really continued to listen and work and really has a bunch of fun doing it all, so it’s really fun to see him have the success he’s having.”