Photo By Hillary Ehlen
It’s no secret that North Dakota State women’s basketball needed some kind of pick-me-up. The former Division II powerhouse of a program transitioned into the Division I era behind the leadership of legendary head coach Amy Ruley. When Ruley left coaching in 2008, the Bison women were left without their leader. The subsequent decade has yielded undesirable results, both from an athletic department perspective and a team one too.
There is no denying that the 2019-20 Bison are hungry. In fact, one could say they are starving for success on the hardwood. A talented roster is intact heading into the season with NDSU only losing three seniors, but returning eight, including much of their core girls. All they needed was the leader to push them to excellence.
That is a job for Jory Collins, the new head women’s basketball coach at North Dakota State.
The job description was likely simple enough, but Collins is aware that this position has a certain amount of magnitude attached to it. He is being tasked with re-writing the history books and silencing those who have written this program off in recent years. Collins wants to return a once historic program to its former glory. He was hired to win basketball games in the near future. For him, that means winning in 2019-20.
He possesses the staff and roster to do it too. Each player and coach has bought into the Collins way as the season draws closer. When talking about him with players, you’ll hear two common words in describing Jory Collins. He is intense and passionate about the game and this program.
Bison women’s basketball needs that and it’s clear the players have opened themselves up to this new era. Good things are certainly on the horizon for Jory Collins and NDSU, there is no doubt about that.
We spoke with Collins about this offseason transition, his fervor for the game and where he wants the Bison to go in 2019-20 and beyond.
We’re hitting that preseason phase here soon. How has the summer and offseason been for you and your staff?
It’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the girls on another level. Not only as basketball players but also off the floor and finding out what makes them tick, what their strengths and weaknesses are playing and how we can utilize them to make the best basketball team possible.
Our staff is young and energetic and are pounding the pavement in the recruiting trail and doing a great job at practice. It’s still the honeymoon phases a little bit where nothing has happened yet but I’m really excited about the progress that we’ve made here in some short months.
Two words I hear often from your players when describing you are “intense” and “passionate”. Where does that stem from?
I always grew up as a competitive person. Even as a young guy, just playing in the backyard and playing in the driveway. We were small-town kids and that is just what you did, you tried to kill each other when we were playing.
When I got to college and started working for coach [Brandon] Schneider at Emporia State, the level of competitiveness was great. You could compete on every play, every rep in the weight room and some of that I had innately, but being around people who are that competitive as well, it just kind of blossomed out.
How crucial was it to keep assistant coach Morgan Paige considering she helped bridge the gap between this new staff and the previous one?
I’m really thankful that we were able to keep her and she wanted to stay because she has been tremendous in all areas. Not just recruiting but obviously she has an understanding of how our athletic department works as I’m getting up to speed. She was invaluable just in me learning some of the day-to-day operational things around here. The players love her, recruits love her and that’s obviously why we wanted her to stay. She is a tremendous asset and has been exactly what I had hoped she’d be.
You bring in four new freshmen and have eight returners from last season on the roster. How do you plan on ironing out this year’s rotation?
The people that give us the best chance to win are the people that are going to play. We’ve been really straight forward with them about that. I have no allegiances to anyone, I’m new here, our staff is new here in general. What you put out in practice is what will earn you playing time. It’s not about what you’ve done before. If you played 20 minutes last year, that doesn’t mean you’re getting it this year. If you didn’t play at all last year, it doesn’t mean you can’t earn a bunch of minutes.
I think that has been refreshing for people who either didn’t like their role and a challenge for people who expect to have a role. Knowing that you have to earn it every day because we don’t have any preconceived notions whatsoever about what has been done in the past.
It’s been a long time since top tier teams came to Fargo. You were able to get the likes of Iowa State, Wyoming and Wisconsin to come to the Scheels Center this season. How important are those games for this program?
When you have a vision and you know it’s going to be a process, you have to measure yourself against teams and things you want to be. Then we can really see how far we have to go to get there. That is one thing I am super excited about. I can watch film all day on the Summit League, but until we get through the year and I see what those players look like, how they execute, those things help you in putting a team together and deciding how you want to play.
Those teams will be tremendous challenges, they’ll expose you in areas where you’re weak and where you need to get better. At the same time, if you can do some things against those teams, if you can execute some things, those are things you can hang your hat on as you go through the year as you get into conference play.
Given that you have a strong core of upperclassmen, how do you assess the talent of those juniors and senior?
Rylee [Nudell], as a senior and that group of juniors, are all talented players. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but that’s a group, if we can put them in the right positions, can be consistently important to us all year long. They can make enough plays to put us in a whole bunch of ballgames. Sofija [Zivaljevic] has a chance to have a really good year. [Emily] Dietz is ready to blossom as a post player, she has had two years, she knows what it’s all about.
The best thing about those kids is that they’re eager to improve. As a team, when they haven’t had the success they’ve wanted to have, they’re just really ready to listen and try anything. The buy-in they’ve had has been terrific and we’ve been so pleased with the way they’ve been coachable. As I said, they’re eager to change the narrative around here a little bit about what our program can be.
Your players have said that you want to win basketball games right now, not two or three years from now. What does your team have to do to succeed and win in 2019-20?
There is going to be some days where we’re going to look great. It might be for a game, a stretch and there will be times where we look awful for a stretch. There is the chemistry that needs to be built between what we’re asking them to do and what they’re used to doing. Those things take time, but on the days where we’re clicking, I really feel like we’ll have a chance to be in a whole bunch of ballgames. Those guys are good enough and that’s exciting.
We just have to continue to build, we haven’t been in the fire together at all yet. How will they react when it’s a four-point game with three minutes to go and the last six possessions matter the most. That’s where coaching and what we’ve practiced shows up, it’s just a matter of when it shows up. Does it show up early in the year or later in the semester? That’s what it’s all about.
Collins At A Glance
- 2018-19: Assistant coach at the University of Kansas
- 2010-2018: Head coach at Emporia State
- 2000-2010: Assistant coach at Emporia State
- Led Emporia State to five MIAA Tournament championships between 2013-2017.
- Emporia State was Central Region champions in 2015.
- As an assistant, Collins helped lead Emporia State to a Division II National Championship in 2010. The Hornets finished the season 30-5.
- Currently holds a 199-58 head coaching record heading into 2019-20.
- In his time as a head coach, Collins has gone 34-9 in tournament games.
Meet The New Staff
Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
- Previous Stop: Spent the previous two seasons in Fargo as an assistant coach at NDSU.
- Alma Mater: Wisconsin
- Previous Stop: Graduate student manager for the University of Kansas.
- Alma Mater: Emporia State
- Previous Stop: Graduate assistant at Emporia State.
- Alma Mater: Emporia State
Director of Women’s Basketball Operations
- Previous Stop: Assistant coach at North Dakota State College of Science.
- Alma Mater: Kansas City Community College/University of Sioux Falls