For Bison men's basketball, the season in essence starts next week
With so much roster fluctuation, summer workouts important for team chemistry as much as anything
FARGO — Sometime in the middle of October, the North Dakota State men’s basketball team will gather at its workout facility in the Sanford Health Athletic Complex and go through its first day of practice. By then, it will be more of a ceremonious occasion than anything else.
Especially this year. For all practical purposes, the first day will be next week when the returning and new players gather for summer workouts.
With such a major roster fluctuation from last season, the Bison will have at least seven new players, so the importance of the next few months is obvious: they need to get to know each other before they can play together.
“One-hundred percent,” said NDSU head coach Dave Richman. “We’re excited. I love the group we had last year and there are some certain things you have with seniors. But there’s a newness and a freshness with a bunch of young guys and new guys coming in. We feel very good about our talent, about getting some mileage on them and some experience.”
Nine players are gone from last year. Most notably, center Rocky Kreuser graduated, forward Tyree Eady transferred to North Texas State, guard Sam Griesel transferred to Nebraska, guard Maleeck Harden-Hayes transferred to North Carolina-Wilmington and guard Jarius Cook moved on to Jacksonville University (Fla.).
It leaves sophomores Grant Nelson and Boden Skunberg as the most experienced returning players. Also returning are sophomore center Andrew Morgan, sophomore forward Joshua Streit and sophomore guard Dezmond McKinney, who is currently recovering from ACL surgery and is a ways out from returning to the court.
The focus of summer workouts starts with strength and conditioning coach Jason Miller, who's been with the Bison program for 16 years.
“Coach Miller does a tremendous job, I like to say from the neck down in getting us stronger,” Richman said. “But he does a better job from the neck up with discipline and accountability, all the little things.”
The Bison coaching staff is part of the program, too. For eight weeks, they can work with each player for eight hours a week. Long gone are the days when NCAA rules prohibited coaches from even being around players in the summer.
Players will live on campus this summer and most will stay there during the school year or live close by. They’ll work NDSU summer camps, have team meals, have an outing at a lake and participate in select community activities like Juneteenth.
The players are asked as much as possible to stay around town on the weekends.
“We call it shared sacrifice,” Richman said. “The thing that makes sense to me: Everybody is good and everybody is talented, what separates the good from the great are the little things and that’s what we pride ourselves on.”
The five incoming freshmen will get a quick start on college life in guards Damari Thomas-Wheeler from Elgin, Ill., Tajavis Miller from Lubbock, Texas, and Lance Waddles from Shreveport, La., and forwards Noah Feddersen from Menomonie, Wis., and Sam Hastreiter from Lincoln, Neb.
Guard Luke Yoder will transfer from Illinois Wesleyan to NDSU.
It’s the most striking transition Richman has gone through with his roster since he became the Bison head coach in 2014. The transfer portal, however, was not a thing until recently, either.
It is extending recruiting into late spring and early summer. But Richman said that doesn’t mean he’s switching his recruiting focus from high school players to the transfer portal. NDSU so far has taken just one player, Yoder, although one or two more could be added later.
“It’s not what we want to be the reality, I want to make that clear,” he said. “Everybody is talking portal, but we’ve taken one guy and we’ve had a lot of success. We’re not taking a 180-degree approach, we still plan to build it like we have. If we have to adjust, we’ll adjust in the future. But why change something completely that is working?”