COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dave Richman is a North Dakota boy, through and through.
He has not had a coaching career prototypical of most of his peers in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. He has not bounced from job to job, climbing the ladder while traversing the nation, moving to one school with the purpose of jumping to a bigger one as soon as possible.
Richman's career has mostly been at North Dakota State University, starting as a student assistant under coach Ray Giacolletti almost 20 years ago and working his way up to head coach after Saul Phillips left for greener pastures in 2014. There were coaching stints at the North Dakota State College of Science and Northern Iowa, but Richman has been at NDSU for most of his adult life.
He's been a North Dakotan for most of his 40 years on the planet.
He graduated high school in Wahpeton, N.D., where his dad John has been a decades-long fixture as football coach, athletic director and president at NDSCS. Dave Richman spent two years at Science before completing his college education at NDSU (bachelor's degree in 2002, master's degree in 2005).
He's been a Bison assistant coach under Giacolletti, Greg McDermott, Tim Miles and Phillips. He's what you'd call a lifer, not wandering far in a profession filled with transients. He is a poster boy for North Dakota-rooted success, a throwback to the era before the Bison were a Division I program churning out coaches moving to higher levels.
It hasn't all been rosy. There were rumblings earlier this season that perhaps Richman's time at NDSU should end, given a 15-17 record last year and a rough start to this one.
And yet, there was Richman on the court at Colonial Life Arena on Thursday, March 21, chatting with the powerhouse television sportscasting crew of Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson and Grant Hill. They'll be broadcasting the NCAA tournament game the Bison have against Duke on Friday, in prime time, to a worldwide audience of millions.
And there will be Richman, on the sidelines as his underdog team tries to stay with the No. 1-seeded Blue Devils, trying to match wits with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, possibly the greatest college basketball coach of all time with 1,100 Division I victories and five national championships.
There will be Richman trying to figure out a way to stop Duke's phenomenal freshman Zion Williamson, who will likely be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NBA draft. And if Williamson isn't enough, Duke's roster is filled with players who will be chosen in the first round or at least have an NBA career.
What does the North Dakota boy think about all this?
"It's obviously really, really cool," Richman said. "I think at the end of the day, you are who you are because of your roots. I was raised by two wonderful people, my dad and mom, John and Marcia, and my sister. Great family and that really is the core of who I am."
Richman has coached in NCAA games before. He led the Bison to the tournament his first year, when an NDSU team led by Lawrence Alexander and Dexter Werner lost to Gonzaga in Seattle. And, of course, the Bison defeated North Carolina Central in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday.
For the most part, though, Richman's 96-66 record in five seasons has mostly been known only in the Flickertail State.
Richman's been given some attention this week because national media noticed the T-shirt he was wearing under a suit jacket in Dayton. It's something Richman's done all year. The T-shirt says "Landon's Light," honoring 11-year-old cancer patient Landon Solberg of West Fargo.
But playing Duke with Nantz and Raftery on the call will be an entirely different level of light shined on Richman and the Bison. If the coach or his players were feeling the heat during media day in Columbia, they weren't showing it. The players were loose during a light 40-minute practice and Richman was chatty with Raftery and Nantz, appearing to give Raftery a phone number at one point.
NDSU said it didn't watch Duke practice, but certainly the Bison know the situation -- even if they aren't aware Las Vegas views the Blue Devils as 27 1/2-point favorites. This could get ugly.
"Hopefully we represent the people back home," Richman said. "North Dakota is a great state and, I like to say this, it's a state that for three or four months out of the year gets really cold, but that keeps the riff-raff out and it adds to some toughness. I think what you'll see (Friday) and I think what you've seen the back end of the year, when we got some experience on these guys, is a blue-collar mentality.
"In Fargo, North Dakota, and West Fargo, the Red River Valley, Moorhead, the state of North Dakota, there's some tremendous people with great resolve and toughness. Hopefully that's what this Bison men's basketball team looks like as well."
Is the North Dakota boy ready for what's coming at 6:10 p.m. Central on the biggest stage?
"Absolutely. Ready or not, here it comes," Richman said. "With a great challenge comes a great opportunity and, certainly, I'm going to be ready for it. And I know our guys will as well."
It might be fleeting, given the likely lopsided outcome of the game, but for one shining moment the North Dakota-born-and-bred coach of the Bison will be mentioned in the same breath as Mike Krzyzewski and the mighty Duke Blue Devils. This is the big-time and Richman will be center stage.