It wouldn’t really be fitting to call Dave Richman an old dog, being that he’s only 42 years old. But he also traces his coaching beginning back to the days of Ray Giacoletti, Greg McDermott and Tim Miles.
They were the North Dakota State head men’s basketball coaches from 1997-2007. Call Richman a veteran dog.
And this year, the veteran dog taught himself some new tricks by doing something that is hard to do: He altered his head coaching style, mostly in the name the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is a lot going on outside of putting an orange ball through an orange hoop and I have perspective of that,” Richman said. “Trying to keep this fresh. Trying to keep it fun for the guys, meaning like after a home sweep you can’t go out and really celebrate.”
When the lights are on, like they will be Friday and Saturday night against South Dakota State at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex, the adrenaline for the players will be pumping. NDSU is in the hunt for a regular season Summit League title against a rival school.
But when they leave the court, walk down the quiet hallway to the quiet locker room, silence never goes away.
The guys, his players, have no life outside of basketball this season. No restaurants. No checking out a shopping mall.
“None,” Richman said. “None.”
And that’s where the Bison coaching staff has adjusted. Make no mistake, they’re still intense in the moments when they need to be intense. Take a couple possessions off on defense and see how that works out with Richman’s stern coaching glare.
But a sense of change this season came during a postgame press conference after the Bison swept the University of Denver in January. Richman brought up the word “fun” on a couple of occasions and said something to the effect of himself having “to look into a mirror.”
The explanation, a month later?
“I think what I’ve found this year is it’s really a fine line,” he said. “There are bigger things, mental health pieces outside of the game of basketball. We’re walking that line of toughness and accountability and it’s always about the process but maybe the process has changed a little bit.”
At Kansas City, the team had a skit night where it roasted each other in the name of comedy. There has been more music at times. Communication on matters other than basketball have taken on a greater importance.
The reality hit immediately in NDSU’s season-opening games against Nevada and the University of Nebraska. The Bison were in Lincoln, Neb., the hometown of Bison guard Sam Griesel, yet Griesel’s parents weren’t allowed to watch the game.
The team was going to have Thanksgiving dinner at the Griesel home, but that was canceled.
“Lucky for me I have an audience in that locker room that understands both perspectives,” Richman said.
It’s not like his old style needed tweaking. In six seasons as the head Bison head coach, Richman’s teams won three Summit League tournament titles and subsequently three berths in the NCAA Division I tournament.
Last year’s Big Dance, of course, was canceled because of the pandemic. And it is precisely the virus that caused him to change some things this year in regard to the relationship with his players.
The Dave of say three years ago has changed.
“I would say yes,” he said. “The end goal hasn’t changed but there is a different, bigger picture of how we’re going to get there.”