Photo By Hillary Ehlen
The 2018-19 North Dakota State basketball team won the Summit League Tournament. They also won a game in the NCAA Tournament over North Carolina Central. After that, they put the school on the biggest stage in America, battling with Duke in the second round of the biggest sporting event of the year.
They did that with no seniors.
They did that with a bunch of freshmen, sophomores and juniors that were hungry for success. Many wrote the team off following a 2-7 start to the season and all of those doubters were silenced in March. The Bison went from underdogs to top dogs in a matter of three days in Sioux Falls.
And now? They’re back. This time, with four seniors, each possessing different skills and qualities than the other. These veterans have grown up in this program and now they all are driving towards the same goal. A Summit League championship and a return to the NCAA Tournament, the pinnacle of collegiate athletics.
Vinnie Shahid is entering just his second year in Dave Richman’s program. Following a stellar debut season in 2018-19, many are looking to Shahid to guide the Bison through 2019-20. However, he is quick to note that he will not be the only source of leadership and production. He foresees multiple players taking on bigger roles this year.
“You just bring the new guys in and introduce them to what we call our family. We have to keep building on each other. Other guys step into different roles and other guys in roles build in their roles. You just become stronger that way, bonds become stronger over time, obviously,” Shahid said about building this team’s chemistry. “As guys start to become comfortable in their new roles and building on their roles, everything just kind of falls into place. You see in Puerto Rico, young guys like Maleeck [Harden-Hayes] and Jaxon [Knotek] start to fall into roles early. That is something we can really build on.”
That Puerto Rico trip was eye-opening for Shahid. He played in all three games for the Bison and averaged nearly 14 points per game. However, the trip opened up Shahid’s eyes to just how deep the 2019-20 Bison are.
“It gave the guys that don’t play as many minutes during the regular season a chance to play. If something does happen or a guy does go down, they’re ready to step into the fire right away,” said Shahid of the trip and its impact on the team. “That’s huge because knock on wood that nothing happens, but you never know. Those guys have to be ready to step into their roles.”
As the point guard, Shahid takes a certain amount of accountability in performing at a high level. His play often dictates the other four players around him and he wants to look to elevate his teammates more this season.
“At the end of the day, I’m still trying to win basketball games, I’m still trying to put my teammates in positions to be successful. By doing that, I think we will win basketball games,” he said. “As people grow up and people figure out their roles more and as we become closer, I think our opportunity to win more basketball games and win bigger basketball games comes easier for us.”
Shahid won the Summit League’s Newcomer of the Year award and was named the conference tournament’s MVP. With his otherworldly play in March, it’s hard to not place Shahid at the top of the leaderboard for the Summit League Player of the Year award. The Bison are the presumed preseason favorite to win the conference too. With that, Shahid knows focus is the key.
“You try not to think about it, but I would lie to you and say we’re not human, everyone thinks about it. It’s one of those things where you just got to put your head down and go to practice,” he said. “Once you do that, expectations and opportunities come from preparation. If you’re preparing like you’re the best team in the conference, you’re going to play like the best team in the conference.”
Though he led the team in points per game last year, Shahid feels there is plenty to improve upon heading into 2019-20. He feels he can even improve in areas he is already incredibly strong in.
“I can get a little better defensively as far as off the ball, knowing where I’m supposed to be over the course of 40 minutes. I want to take percentages up, less turnovers, more assists, I want my teammates to shoot the ball better, I want them to get more looks and open shots,” he said. “As crazy as it sounds, I want to be a better leader and I want to be a better overall person for my team. When I leave here, I want my teammates to love me and look at me and say that is what a leader is.”
Flanking Shahid are three other tremendous seniors who have been in the program for years. Chris Quayle will enter his third year in Fargo after transferring to North Dakota State in 2017. The Riverton, Wyoming, native played in 32 games last season and recorded an efficient 41 percent shooting mark from the field. What does not show up on the stat sheet and cannot be accurately gauged is Quayle’s ability as an on-ball defender. When he is in the game, he is often tasked with defending the opposition’s best player.
Fans and opponents know the name, Tyson Ward. He has been a generational talent for Dave Richman since joining the team in 2016. Ward has only missed one game over the course of his Bison career, playing in 96 games to date. He led the team in rebounds per game last year and was second behind Shahid in points per game.
The Tampa native played his best when it mattered most as well. He poured in 25 points against Oral Roberts in the opening game of the Summit League Tournament. While his 15 points against Omaha in the conference championship may not look like much, his dominance down low in the second half of that game helped propel the Bison to victory.
The Bison would not have won their First Four game against North Carolina Central had it not been for Ward’s 23 points. By game’s end, North Dakota State was shoveling the ball to Ward down low. Ward has upped his splits each year on campus and there is no reason to believe 2019-20 will be any different.
If there is one story that is truly remarkable it is that of Jared Samuelson. A walk-on to the Bison basketball program, Samuelson has established himself as the most lethal long-range shooter in the conference. He hit 67 three-pointers last season on an unfathomable 46 percent clip. The percentage mark is the sixth-best season mark in school history. Currently, Samuelson is fourth in school history in all-time three-point field goal percentage. Outside of his ability as a shooter, Samuelson is as gritty as they come and is quite possibly the Bison’s best on-ball defender.
You know these names. They have become ingrained in your mind thanks to the memorable hardwood moments of the past. Yet, for the number of threes or dunks you have seen, these four are not done. They want to continue to create a legacy at NDSU that lasts long after this season.