Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
After a loss in the Summit League finals last season, these six seniors are ready to make history. It has been five years since the Bison have made the NCAA Tournament and you had better believe this veteran team is ready to go to the Big Dance.
The Braun File:
- Awarded the 2013 Preseason Summit League Player of the Year
- Back-to-back leading scorer for the Bison
- Needs to average 13.6 points during the 30 regular season games to crack the Bison’s top-10 all-time scoring list.
Three days. According to Saul Phillips, that’s how close the Bison were to missing the 6’7″ guard from Newberg, Ore.
Braun has been decorated this preseason, accumulating enough awards to fill-up several shelves in his trophy case.
“We thought we had a pretty good one,” Phillips said. “But no one would have dreamed it would have evolved to this point.”
Braun admits coming to NDSU with a chip on his shoulder, but now sees himself as one of the leaders of this team. The guard models himself after Freddy Coleman and Michael Tveidt, who were the leaders of the team during Braun’s freshman year. Braun said he understands the potential criticism that comes with being the leader on the court.
“It’s not all good stuff,” Braun said. “When the team is struggling, a lot of that is on me. That’s not fun to deal with, but it comes with the position. I’ve embraced it.”
When the Bison are rolling, a lot has to do with Braun’s ability to score the basketball. By penetrating the lane and finishing at the rim, or spotting up behind the three-point line and hitting a jumper, Braun is dangerous from anywhere which has brought a lot of hype.
“It’s exciting because there have been times where we’ve felt we’ve been better than the nation has seen us,” Braun said. “We know we’ve worked hard, and it’s been noticed, and now we just have to go out there and prove it this season.”
The Felt File:
- Scored a career-high 24 points vs. Youngstown State, Nov. 11, 2012
- Played his 100th game against Viterbo, Nov. 8, 2013
- After making seven three-pointers in the first game of the season, he is only 50 three-pointers from having the most all-time in Bison history.
“I wish I could teach my children how to shoot like Mike Felt.”
Coach Phillips isn’t the only one that is envious of Felt’s stroke from beyond the arc. The fifth-year senior from Redwood Falls, Minn. entered the season sixth on NDSU’s all time 3-point list. Felt is making it known early in the season that he is making a run for the top of the list after tying the school-record with seven 3-pointers in the first game of the season.
Felt cracked the starting lineup periodically throughout his career, but for the most part he has done most of his damage coming off the bench and providing that heat-check the Bison need.
“The guy that’s in with me has probably been playing for four minutes, so he might be a little winded by the time I get in,” Felt said. “Sometimes my knees stiffen up, might be a little tight, but it doesn’t take too long to work that out and get into the game.”
Felt is one of the grizzled vets on the team and thinks the Bison have a chance to be special this season.
“We’ve got so many people who are seniors now who have had a lot of experience,” Felt said. “And I think we gel together really well, and the chemistry is unbelievable on the team.”
The Newell File:
- Walked onto the Bison program in 2009
- Played 39 games for the Bison entering this season
- Credited with the development of many young Bison players
Fred Newell began by playing pick-up games at the Wellman Wellness Center, and then walked-on to the team back in 2009. Since then, he has been working tirelessly in practice to shape every Bison guard.
“Without Freddy, I swear L.A. (Lawrence Alexander) wouldn’t be as good as he is, and he (Alexander) would tell you that,” TrayVonn Wright said. “Freddy works hard and I have a lot of respect for him because he is doing all of this without a scholarship.”
Newell said defending has always been his thing since high school and is happy he gets to put his defense on display to make his teammates better.
“I just try to go out, play as hard as I can,” Newell said. “And hopefully that will rub off on the other guys and help them as well.”
Coach Phillips certainly appreciates the energy Newell brings day in and day out and would love to reward Newell for his commitment at the end of the season.
“I think you want to make a NCAA tournament for a lot of different reasons, especially professionally in coaching and for your program,” Phillips said. “But I want to make it for Fred. I think it would be so cool for him to get a ring and participate in a NCAA tournament because he is a guy who never asked for one thing out of this program other than to play basketball.”
The Aaberg File:
- Tallest member of the team at a towering 6’9″
- Has played in 82 games for the Bison entering this season
- Scored a career-high 15 points against South Dakota, Jan. 4, 2012
When Jordan Aaberg became a Bison, there were two things he knew he needed to do: gain weight and become a smarter basketball player. Although Aaberg still sees himself as skinny, he undoubtingly knows his basketball IQ has increased at the same rate as the rest of the seniors on the team.
“The last couple of years we have really come along defensively and we have been really clicking on that side of the ball,” Aaberg said. “It’s what we’re getting known for is our defense.”
Aaberg plays a huge role as the last line of defense, standing at 6’9″. Coach Phillips knows Aaberg can log meaningful minutes for the Bison as long as he stays healthy, something Aaberg hasn’t been able to do over the past two years.
“He has always worked very hard to get him in position to play on the court,” Phillips said. “This year he has worked his way into getting more playing time than in years past because he is healthier.”
Aaberg is looking forward to getting back on the court because he knows this team is on the verge of doing something great.
“I think we have the talent,” Aaberg said. “I think it’s important that we know who we are and our work ethic is to get after it every day.”
The Wright File:
- Enters the season ranked third all-time in Bison history with 120 blocked shots
- Recorded 61 blocked shots last season, second most all-time in Bison history
- Entering this season, he is 244 points away from cracking the 1,000 point club
Versatility has been the strength of the Bison over the past three years, but no player has epitomized that idea more than TrayVonn Wright.
Wright’s height, leaping ability and jump shot have allowed him to find his way onto multiple highlight reels during his time at NDSU.
Wright believes that he is valuable on the offensive side because of his shooting ability. He says, “That’s where they really needed me to work on shooting, so I could open up the lane for our guys to drive like Taylor (Braun).”
Coach Phillips emphasizes defense and proves it with his love of Wright’s defensive ability. “Everyone prefers his ability to dunk, but I prefer his ability to defend,” Phillips said. “Although the dunks are pretty fun, too. The amount of highlight moments he has given this program over the years is only rivaled to the amount of game winning defensive plays he has made.”
Wright’s dunks have become well known throughout Bison Nation, and his defense has become memorable for his Summit League opponents.
The Bjorklund File:
- Entered this season as all-time field goal percentage leader at 66.3 percent
- Scored a career-high 27 points against Fresno State, Nov. 26, 2011
- Finished 2nd in the country in field goal percentage at 67 percent last season
Marshall Bjorklund has quietly become one of the most efficient low-post scorers in Bison and Summit League history. Shooting over 66 percent last season, Bjorklund has been gaining the trust of his teammates.
“That state of mind has been helpful with my confidence,” Bjorklund said. “It’s something you have to naturally have and work at it.You just have to have a feel for where the defenders are going to be and where your teammates are.”
Fellow post player, Jordan Aaberg, simply believes Bjorklund out-works everybody. “He comes in everyday, busts his butt in whatever we do, and that’s kind of how the team is,” Aaberg said.
Bjorklund has all the physical skills to be the excellent low post player he is, but Coach Phillips believes his success is more than that.
“He lives his life emotionally very stable, and that calmness permeates through the whole team,” Phillips said. “Stoic, Norwegian pig farmer is what he is and everything that you can think that comes with that. Steady person, Marshall is.”
Surrounded by shooters, Bjorklund has been a great complement for the Bison starting lineup and will be the first one to pass along credit for his success to the playmakers around him.