MOORHEAD — Earlier in his playing career at Minnesota State Moorhead, forward Joe Sevlie had a staph infection in his left knee that placed him in the hospital for days and led to some soul searching.

Sevlie grew stronger in his faith and that also helped change his approach on the basketball court.

“That kind of changed me as a person,” Sevlie said. “I felt like I was coming from a different place. I got real with God and got real with Jesus. A lot of maturing happened to me as a person.”

That maturity started to show for Sevlie last season as he played in 30 games and made 12 starts after playing more sparingly earlier in his career. The fifth-year senior is slated to start for the Dragons men this weekend. MSUM opens the regular season at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2 against Augustana at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play. The season start was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“He elevated his investment into the game,” Dragons head coach Chad Walthall said. “The last year and a half Joe has taken another level in (his) maturity level.”

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The 6-foot-8 Sevlie averaged 6.7 points and 3.7 rebounds last season, which was his junior campaign. He’s expected to make another jump in what could be his final season. Sevlie has the option to return to play next season with the NCAA granting an eligibility waiver to all players due to COVID-19.

“Mentally and physically I’ve been able to grow with my game,” said Sevlie, who is from Red Wing, Minn. “I have a better flow with the game and improving my IQ as a basketball player.”

Sevlie said he tested positive for COVID-19 in early December and that kept him out of practice for weeks. He returned to the court Monday after going through return to play protocols.

“It was basically like an intense cold, my body got sore, I felt under the weather,” Sevlie said.

Even though Sevlie missed that practice time, Walthall is confident Sevlie will be ready to go this weekend when the Dragons play Augustana on Saturday and Sunday.

“His level has been off the charts,” Walthall said. “He was practicing as well as any time he’s ever been here.”

Walthall said Sevlie is one of the team’s top combination defenders with the ability to guard players in the post and on the perimeter. That versatility paired with his offensive game make him a valuable player for the Dragons.

“Whether he’s starting or not, he’s playing starting minutes,” Walthall said. “He’s a good player.”

Sevlie scored in double digits in nine games last season as he continued to develop as a player. His older brother, Isaac Sevlie, helped lead MSUM to the Division II Elite Eight during the 2014-15 season. Isaac was an offensive force for the Dragons by the end of his college career.

Joe entered the program a season after Isaac’s senior campaign with MSUM. Joe said his older brother has been a key basketball influence.

“He kind of let me know what it was about, but then I had to figure it out on my own,” said Joe, who has six siblings. “There is always kind of that learning curve of having your own journey.”

Joe said he reads the Bible prior to games to help give him peace of mind heading into competition.

“I read my Bible, pray a little and I’ll just go out and play and just do my best," he said.

Joe is intrigued to see how this season plays out during an ongoing pandemic. MSUM isn’t going to allow fans at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse for at least the first two weeks of the season. The Dragons are slated to play 16 conference games over eight weekends.

“It’s going to be more just playing basketball,” Joe Sevlie said. “It’s not going to be so much the hype, but it’s just going to be playing basketball. I think kind of in a sense that will be fun. … I think it will kind of be fun to play ball against some teams and see what happens.”