Andre Smith did more than just become the physical presence inside that helped North Dakota State make the transition to Division I men's basketball. Ben Woodside did more than just make the game-winning hoop that got the Bison to their first NCAA tournament.
Both started a trend that hasn't stopped since Smith left NDSU in 2007: A Bison presence in professional basketball. Smith and Woodside have already retired from the game. Still playing are Lawrence Alexander, Taylor Braun, Kory Brown, TrayVonn Wright and Dexter Werner.
Paul Miller may be next in line.
"That's something I hope to accomplish," Miller said.
First things first, however. The Bison play Fort Wayne at 6 p.m. today in the first round of the Summit League tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D. A win and NDSU can look ahead to Monday's semifinals, with the ultimate goal of a title on Tuesday and a berth in the NCAA tournament. A loss and NDSU, with a 14-16 record, is done.
Only then, Miller said, will he look ahead to his next phase. He's already being contacted by pro ball representatives, something he calls a little bit distracting.
"People are reaching out to you right now," he said. "I'm trying to not focus on any of that talk right now."
The focus-this season-has been productive.
Miller, a 6-foot-6 guard, is averaging 19.4 points and 5.8 rebounds and is currently seventh on the NDSU all-time scoring list with 1,676 points. He needs 19 points to pass Jeff Askew for sixth place and 42 to move pass Joe Regnier for fifth. He's fourth in 3-point field goals made with 239 and needs five to tie Mike Felt for third place.
Moreover, he's just the sixth player in NDSU history to have at least 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists in his career. The numbers alone put him in the category as one of the all-time greatest players in Bison history.
That realization hit head coach Dave Richman when he was doing an interview with a Milwaukee radio station earlier this year. Miller is from Waukesha, Wis.
"It was like, oh, easy Dave, that's a pretty big statement," Richman said. "But as I thought back and you look at his numbers across the board, he should be labeled right there with that equation."
Smith and Woodside are right there. Alexander and Braun are right there. With the Division I move has come more opportunities for Bison players in the pro game, probably for a couple of reasons: NDSU is getting better players who in turn are getting more exposure on a nationwide scale.
"Paul will have options," Richman said. "I wouldn't have been as comfortable sitting up here with Paul's situation six, seven years ago. The contacts and resources that we have are a lot better."
Miller's most likely scenario is overseas basketball. Werner is the latest, playing for a team in Germany in the Pro B League. He's starting for SSV Lokomotive Bernau averaging 14.7 points and 7.8 rebounds. Brown is a backup guard on the team.
"There have been some neat experiences over there for our guys," Richman said. "What did Dexter say? If you can delay going into the cubicle for a while, then you might as well do it."
Most of NDSU's pro players played in at least one NCAA tournament, with Miller gunning for his second. The No. 5 seed Bison play No. 4 Fort Wayne in today's Summit League first round game at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.
"It's crazy to think this is my last time going down there," Miller said. "I think the word is urgency."
Miller was a freshman when the Bison lost to Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a game where he hit 5 of 6 field goals and finished with 13 points. He would like nothing better than to get another shot at a first round game. If not, then it's on to the next thing.
"It's all about finding the right fit," Miller said. "Wherever I feel and my family feels is the best for me is probably where I'll end up."