Photos By Richard Carlson/Inertia, Dave Eggen/Inertia and Nolan P. Schmidt
We live in a world of “what if”. Pondering different courses of action and their outcome is something that will always be human nature.
In the case of Bison men’s basketball, that question will be asked over and over for years to come. Following NDSU’s second consecutive Summit League Tournament victory, the Bison looked like an attractive upset pick in the NCAA Tournament. Not long after the historic victory, that notion was dropped entirely. The NCAA Tournament was canceled, leaving fans, players, coaches and administration alike to wonder “what if?”.
Unfortunately, we will never be able to find out that answer to that question. We can speculate, articulate and opine all we want, but it will not change anything.
Yet, we fail to consider just what that could do to a basketball team from a mental perspective. Dwelling on that miserable turn of events could linger and eventually impact the Bison teams of the future.
Rocky Kreuser is quick to note that while it was a challenge to find closure, it has been found. Now, with a new look Bison roster, Kreuser and the Bison are hungry to right the inevitable wrongs of 2020.
Kreuser spoke on last year’s untimely end and what the future holds for the Bison men.
Take us back to the spring, what kind of mindset did the team have following your Summit League Tournament win and then having the NCAA Tournament canceled?
There was heartbreak. It was inevitable. The fact that you work so hard for so long with a bunch of guys you love and care for and something like that happens, it’s going to hurt. We found out that we wouldn’t get to play at all and it was just done, canceled, not postponed, or anything. That hurt a lot too.
Then we said goodbye to our seniors, four guys who were huge for us last year. After that, we went into the quarantine period which was really tough for a lot of guys everywhere in the country. We were meeting on Zoom once a week and we got home workout plans, but if you don’t have weights, you’re not doing as much as you are here. That was the weirdest part because it felt like we were stuck at home and it felt like we weren’t getting stuff done.
It was a breath of fresh air to get out of that isolation and get to come back here, see the new guys, the new coaches and get to work like we used to. It almost felt like it was normal, but everything was different with new procedures and things. It really did feel like we were back at home.
Was there a moment in the offseason where you and the team found some closure in that situation? Obviously, there will always be that “what if” question, but I’m sure you guys had to turn your focus to this season too.
It was really difficult. I don’t think there was an exact moment or an event that really gave us that closure. For the seniors, I know a couple of them have pro basketball aspirations with Tyson [Ward] playing in Germany right now. Jared [Samuelson] had his eyes set on grad school and I know Chris [Quayle] is still in grad school here.
We still do keep in touch with the guys and I think that is huge. If it was a clean break, it would be really difficult. We focus on the now, on what we can control and what we can control is working hard for the Summit League championship whether that is this year, next year or whenever, so we can go to the next March Madness whenever that may be.
For the first time in a few years, you have a host of new faces, players and coaches. This program is built on how close-knit and cohesive the team is. How have you guys gone about building that chemistry with the new guys?
You go from having pretty much the same exact team two years in a row to getting rid of a bunch of key guys and bringing in a lot of freshmen. There have been advantages, but there have also been disadvantages. With some different people going into quarantine, you can’t always work out together. The advantages are that in this whole pandemic, the goal is to keep your circle as close-knit as possible. You’re not with a bunch of people or going out with random people, you’re pretty much with the same guys. We’re spending an absurd amount of time together and whether you like it or not, you’re going to get to know people really quickly. That has been huge.
It’s just spending time together that has allowed us to build up that chemistry. That is what we did before and I think that is what we’re going to do again.
And how much accountability do you take as a senior in that duty? How important is it for you to take on a leadership role and assimilate the new players?
A lot of that team building falls on the captains and Tyler [Witz]. We’ve been here and we’ve been through it. It is crazy to look back and this is already my fourth year here. You remember the times when you were a freshman and how weird it was. Now, throw on the pandemic and things just have to be confusing to these freshmen. We’re doing our best to ease everyone into this situation. I hope we’re doing a good job.
We focus on the now, on what we can control and what we can control is working hard for the Summit League championship whether that is this year, next year or whenever, so we can go to the next March Madness whenever that may be.
We’re still wondering what the college basketball season will look like. We have a date of November 25, but a lot needs to be sorted out before then. How have you guys stayed on course and motivated?
Our main saying in the program is ‘focus on what you can control’ and focusing on today. That has been the biggest motivator during this pandemic. Looking at how we can get better today. Obviously, there will be thoughts in your head about if we’re going to play and when we’re going to do stuff. We’ve done some competition stuff during periods of this preseason process that have helped guys stay loose and engaged as much as possible. It’s got to be a mental thing though. That is on the captains too to keep everyone involved in everything and so far we’re doing a pretty good job of that.
The response from NDSU during this pandemic has been one of great success, especially when you take into account other schools in the nation. What do you think this “pandemic era” says about North Dakota State student-athletes, coaches and administration?
It’s the Bison family and we’re all together as one. There are going to be moments of weakness because you can get COVID pumping gas or going to the dining center. Yet, the limited amount of cases we have had says a lot about our student-athletes, coaches and staff in this building.
We are dedicated to not only helping ourselves and our team but everyone else in this athletic community. There has to be a huge want to play your season and play for the Fargo-Moorhead community. Without that want, I don’t think that is getting done.