For the first time since being named head coach of the men’s basketball team in 2014, Dave Richman will field a youth-heavy squad. With nine underclassmen, the Bison are young by anyone’s standards. They lost just three players to graduation from last year’s squad, yet have six new additions this season.
Picked to finish fifth in the Summit League, the Bison return just six players who logged minutes on last year’s roster. That group includes juniors Tyson Ward, Deng Geu, Jared Samuelson, Chris Quayle and sophomores Cameron Hunter and Rocky Kreuser.
Ward, a preseason All-Summit League second-team selection, is NDSU’s top returning scorer (11.8 points per game) and will look to heal the wounds left by star guard Paul Miller.
“With Paul Miller gone, it’s definitely going to be a lot weirder playing because there’s a lot of shots that can be taken now and a lot of opportunities for people to take more shots and be spread out,” Ward said. “Now that he’s gone, I have more of a responsibility to help my teammates grow and get better throughout the season so that when it comes down to March, we’re ready to play.”
The forward will be a key cog in the Bison offense in 2018-19, and Ward has continued to grow physically – adding plenty of strength in the weight room this offseason.
“I’m definitely in the weight room and in the gym a lot,” said Ward. “I have to come in with a different mentality. I feel I have to become more of a leader. In the past, I was allowed to be a little quieter, but this time I have to be a little bit more vocal off the court and on the court. So I really think that’s what I had to work on – becoming a better leader.”
Richman landed a bevy of highly regarded prospects this summer, possibly NDSU’s best recruiting stretch since landing Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund and TrayVonn Wright in 2009. More than half of the incoming class are natives of the Twin Cities metro.
One of those highly regarded prospects is Brooklyn Park’s, Jarius Cook. A 6-foot-3 combo-guard, Cook was named second-team All-Metro by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as a senior in 2018 after averaging 16 points per game and leading Park Center High School to a 24-5 record. With offers from Northern Iowa, Idaho and Wisconsin-Green Bay, this was a great get by Richman.
Expect Cook to share minutes in the backcourt with junior transfer Vinnie Shahid. Shahid, a 5-foot-11 point guard transfer from Western Nebraska Community College, has shades of Stephen Curry in his game. The Hopkins, Minnesota, native averaged 18.4 points and 4.8 assists per game and shot a video-game-like 48 percent from three-point range last year, earning NJCAA second-team All-American honors. Per source, Shahid has impressed in camp and is on the fast track at winning starting the point guard spot.
Just seven inches taller than Shahid, playing power forward, the Bison welcome Odell Wilson IV to Fargo. At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Wilson IV is built like a Hummer H1 but has the versatility of a Honda Element. Wilson IV received basketball interest from Yale and football interest from the University of North Dakota but ultimately chose to continue his athletic career ballin’ with the Bison. One of the top 10 finalists for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball in 2018, he averaged 21 points, nine rebounds and nearly two blocks per game for top-ranked Minneapolis North. It’s unclear if they plan to redshirt him at this point, but one thing is certain: when he hits the floor, his ability to bruise up bodies in the paint while showcasing impressive footwork in the post offensively will be wildly entertaining to watch.
Funny story: A few months ago, I ended up in the same noon ball game as him in the student wellness center and I can assure you I stayed as far away from him as possible just for own my safety. It worked. No bones were broken. I am fine.
The last of the Twin Cities additions is 6-foot-3-transfer guard Jordan Horn, who found out this week he’ll be allowed to play in 2018-19. Horn was granted a waiver from the NCAA to play rather than sitting this season out due to transfer rules. A 2017 Mr. Basketball finalist in Minnesota, Horn went on to average 7.9 points and nearly three rebounds last season while playing in 30 games with 13 starts for the Siena Saints. With previous Division 1 experience, Horn could bring high-level shooting that would help absorb the scoring they have to replace from AJ Jacobson and Paul Miller.
To add to the array of Twin City additions, the Bison managed to out-recruit the Creighton Bluejays for one of Nebraska’s finest high school prospects, Sam Griesel. At 6-foot-6, Griesel was one of the top players in the state of Nebraska last season, earning first-team Super-State honors after averaging 17.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game. His size, strength and well-rounded skill set makes him a valuable, versatile piece for Richman to experiment in different lineups with.
Last, but not least, is Jaxon Knotek. A 6-foot-5 guard from River Falls HS, Knotek is a three-year starter who averaged 20 points and six rebounds per game as a junior while shooting 40 percent from the three-point range. He was named Big Rivers Conference Player of the Year and honorable mention all-state as a junior in 2016-17. Knotek is likely to redshirt this season.
Ward had only good things to say about the new faces.
“The craziest thing about these new guys is that they’re all good people. They jumped right in and we all got along. When we all get along, our play gets a lot better. I really think we could have something special this year with all the friendships that we have. There are no side groups. It’s just one big team and everyone’s together.”
These are players who can fill multiple roles, and the fluidity of the roster will be interesting to watch in a busy November that includes a trip to the Bahamas.
“I think everybody in that class is really standing out to me,” Ward said. “All those kids came in with huge chips on their shoulder and they’re ready to prove something. I think that they are all in this one group and are motivated to get better.”
Whether it was by design, the Bison played slow last year. This year, they have the personnel to push the pace. When playing up-tempo, you ideally need three main components: a point guard who can play with pace (Shahid, Hunter), multiple wing scorers (lots of options) and a big man who can run the floor (Geu). Check, check and super check.
Making up for Paul Miller’s near 20 points per game won’t be an easy task, but pushing the pace where they can take advantage of their new-look athleticism suggests to be a step in the right direction. Ward agrees.
“I grew up in a push-pace basketball system. I love getting the ball down the floor. For us, our one through four can grab a rebound and just take off and have other people filling in spots. One through four is interchangeable and I think with our bigs as well, we can space the floor and run the floor, so I think the fast-paced game that we might play is going to be a lot of fun to watch and a lot of fun to play.”
With Cameron Hunter running the point, Vinnie Shahid draining threes, Tyson Ward making smooth plays on the wing and Deng Geu slamming dunks in the paint, there is plenty of room for excitement and development.
This is the start of North Dakota State’s new youth movement, full of potential and intrigue.
I’m Dan Slaubaugh and this is your Slaubaugh Scoop.
Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful November. Go Bison.
*Special thanks to Wes Offerman and NDSU Athletics for the completion of this piece.
*Visit GoBison.com to purchase NDSU MBB tickets. Students, as always, get in free. So take advantage!