Well folks, believe it or not, October is almost over already which means college hoops season is just around the corner and I for one could not be more excited. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from a 2nd consecutive loss in the Summit League Championship game, especially since this one was to SDSU. Once the season ended, the wild off-season adventure for the Bison men’s program began. I don’t believe anybody in the program had any doubt in their mind that last season would end with them playing in the big dance and when that didn’t happen, I think it altered the plans of a few guys. Rocky graduated and is now playing professionally in Germany and already making an impact. Sam, I think, was headed the same direction until the injury derailed his season a bit last year so instead, he was able to enter the portal and head home to his childhood team the Nebraska Huskers for his final season of eligibility and I couldn’t be more excited for him. Tyree Eady already had 5 years in the program so coming back for another year while the guys he came into the program with were leaving didn’t ever seem like the move and he apparently felt the same and entered the portal as well and landed at North Texas where he’ll spend his final season of eligibility. Then came the surprises, one more so than the other as Jarius Cook and Maleeck Harden-Hayes also decided to enter the portal. Jarius had lost some playing time to Boden and with a very talented guard class coming in, I don’t think his role was going to increase this season and I think he also realized that and decided to move on to try to find a better fit for himself and landed at Jacksonville. The bigger surprise for me was Maleeck, he was in line to inherit the 3 spot and I feel like he was the perfect compliment to the other guys on the roster so to see him enter the portal definitely stung a little. Then to see him originally land at conference foe Kansas City made it even worse but after a coaching change at KC, he reentered the portal and landed at UNC-Wilmington. The Bison also had 3 guys that weren’t seeing the floor leave the program in Willie Guy, Grayson Haman and walk-on Kolbe Rada. After the dust had settled, 5 players remained to build the foundation for this years team.
With all of that rough news, the good news is that the returning players and incoming class are loaded with potential. With the season for the NDSU men’s team set to tip off with their exhibition on November 2nd against UM-Crookston, I went to check out the team at practice a week and a half ago to see how the all the new pieces are fitting together and to see the progress of the returning five. One note is that in the practice I went to, Tajavis Miller, Demari Wheeler-Thomas and Dez McKinney (who did do some individual work) were not practicing so evaluations on them are from discussions with coach Richman and what I’ve seen on tape. I won’t discuss the injury statuses, I’ll leave that up to the team/coach to disclose at their discretion. What I will say is none of the injuries seem long term but with the opener just around the corner, there’s a chance they may miss a little time. With no further ado, your 2022-23 NDSU Bison.
The alien unicorn himself, or Grantula as I like to call him. There’s never been a player in NDSU history with his unique combination of size and skill. He showed flashes of brilliance last season but also had a tendency to get himself in foul trouble which he will need to avoid now that the team will be more heavily relying on his production. In practice he was simply unstoppable, just like he was at times last year. Granted the practice was focused on pace and most of the defense was 1 on 1, something he’s very unlikely to see most of the season, but he himself is worth the price of admission this year. He has a chance to be one of, if not the best to every do it in a Bison uniform. What remains to be seen is if he can do it when he’ll be the focal point of every opponent he faces…I for one wouldn’t bet against him.
Speaking of players who can’t be stopped, Andrew Morgan’s name can be added to that list. There were times last year when Morgan looked like the best player on the floor but with the veteran Rocky ahead of him on the depth chart and the mid season injury, there just weren’t enough minutes for him to truly make an impact. This year he will start at the 5 spot and has all the talent to land himself on some All Summit League lists by the end of the year. I firmly believe he will give Marshall Bjorklund a run for the best true post player to put on a Bison uniform by time he’s done at NDSU. He has great footwork, a very good mid range jumper and made some great passes out of double teams last year to find open teammates. He’s toned up a bit since last season and looks both leaner and stronger at the same time. More excited to see him play starting minutes and see what he can do with them than anyone else, there’s a reason Iowa wanted him, he’s a beast.
The most misunderstood of all the players on the Bison roster but one of the most beloved my his coach and teammates. He plays with a lot of fire and determination which sometimes can be misconstrued as cockiness and it can certainly steer some in the wrong direction but he’s just the ultimate competitor on the court and an awesome human off of it. Boden forced his way into the rotation by becoming an absolute menace on the defensive end, which has been quite the transformation given how the majority of his high school accolades coming into the program were due to his production on the offensive side of the floor. Last season he was assigned the opponents best guard in nearly every matchup and noticeably held the All-American Max Abmas in check in their matchups. Not only will he continue to be the teams go to lock down defender but he’ll look to take another step forward in his progression on the offensive end. He has not shot the ball particularly well from 3 yet in his career but with more opportunity I expect that to change a bit this year. The one part of his game he is very dangerous at his putting the ball on the floor and then pulling up for the 12-15 foot jump shot. I don’t think I saw him miss one in 5 or 6 attempts in practice and it’s a shot he should be able to create for himself a bunch this season.
Dez is a player on this team I absolutely love to watch play. Another great on ball defender and one of the few players outside of Sam Griesel who could take the ball to the rack on a consistent basis last season. While improved from beyond the arc last season, that is definitely still not a strong part of his game and something I’m sure he’s continuing to work to improve. Dez was likely in line to either start or be the top backup at the PG position this year until he tore his ACL in the last regular season game at home last season. While Dez has been doing some individual work and running with the team and off to the side during team drills, Coach Richman said they will likely be sticking to the 9 month recovery plan this injury typically follows. That timeline should hopefully get Dez back sometime in December and hopefully in time for league play to start. He will be a key component in the guard rotation once he’s healthy.
In my best John Madden voice “Now this is a guy…” that every single coach loves to have on their team. He’s going to be this teams dirty work player. He definitely caught my eye in practice as he is leaner, stronger, more confident and noticeably more vocal in year 2. He’s tough to move on the block, a physical rebounder and moves himself around within the offense very well setting screens, positioning for offensive boards and finding space when his defender leaves to help. He’s going to be the primary backup at the 5 spot and definitely going to find himself with some tough matchups in the league but he looks like he’s ready to attack it.
Now to the part that everybody checks out these articles for…
As I mentioned at the beginning, I wasn’t fortunate enough to get to see Miller practice but one year after Andrew Morgan came in as NDSU’s highest ranked recruit ever, Coach Richman one upped himself and landed a 3 star out of Lubbock, TX in Tajavis who was the #38 ranked combo guard in the nation. Miller held offers from SMU, Washington State, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and San Diego when he committed to NDSU. Miller came out of high school as a very talented two way player with a team first mentality who was able to affect the game in a variety of ways. Coach Richman told me he’s been as advertised in practice and would likely be a candidate to watch for in the Freshman of the Year category for the conference but did note of course he wouldn’t be the primary scorer on the Bison so even though the talent is there, he may not have the stats for such an award. Sounds like he’s going to be the starting 2 guard for this team as soon as he’s ready to go.
Another player I didn’t get to watch practice that I was really looking forward to seeing. Damari is a 4 year varsity player out of Elgin, IL who led his team to an unbeaten conference title in his senior season. He’s a true point guard who does a lot of the little things really well. He’s great at getting himself into the lane and creating for teammates, has solid vision to find the open guy and while only being 6ft tall, he’s well built to take contact and get himself to the free throw line. While I definitely won’t say Damari is Vinnie Shahid at this point as only a freshman, Bison fans will notice a resemblance in their style of play. In talking with Coach Richman, it sounds like Damari has every shot to earn the starting PG duties based on what he’s seen so far, I’m very interested to see him take the floor against D1 competition.
Out of all of the new guys I did get to watch practice, Jacari was the one who caught my attention the most. After one JuCo season at State College of Florida where he averaged 13.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game and earned first-team all-conference honors, he transferred to NDSU with 3 years of eligibility remaining. This guy could be the shooter Bison fans have been hoping for, he made 71 three-pointers last season and did so at a 39% clip, he also shot 92% from the FT line. For reference, Rocky led the Bison in 3 pointers made last season with 59. Jacari however is not just a great shooter, he’s a good athlete and can create his own shot, can get to the rim, cuts really well away from the ball and also seems to be a pretty solid on ball defender. The quick release of his shot and ability to shoot accurately off balance are what caught my eye, he made a 3 on the left wing towards the end of the shot clock that by the body angle he shot it from I didn’t think it’d have a chance at going in. Obviously those aren’t the shots coach will be looking for him to take on a regular basis but it’s definitely good to have a player to can get a shot up in tough situations. His versatility should also be a big help to this team, I think when the whole team is healthy his primary role will be backing up Miller and Skunberg at the 2/3 spots but with Damari and Dez not practicing when I was there he was also running the PG spot and doing so fairly well. Coach stated that he works very hard and is very thankful for his opportunity to play D1 ball so I only expect him to get better during his time here.
The other player Richman brought in via transfer is PG Luke Yoder from D3 Illinois Wesleyan who comes in after already playing 3 years of college ball and will have 2 years of eligibility remaining. Believe it or not, Yoder will be one of the most experienced players on the Bison roster at the collegiate level and will look to utilize that experience to help lead this young team. The only word I wrote down next to Luke’s name while watching practice was “solid”. He’s not flashy, he’s not the most athletic guy on the floor but he’s just very consistent and does all the little things well. He gets the team into the offense, did a great job of finding open teammates, he also shot 39% from 3 last season and did knock down the open looks when they came his way and was also a solid defender. He will definitely have a role playing the PG spot, including potentially starting there opening day depending on the health of the other guys.
Lance was a late addition in the spring signing period who’s recruitment heated up after he averaged 20 points, 5 boards and 4 assists per game as a senior for Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, LA. He picked up offers from NDSU, UL-Monroe and FIU on the same day and thankfully for Bison fans he chose NDSU. Originally from Bismarck, ND, Waddles found his way back to North Dakota and this dude can absolutely fill it up. Coach Richman told me he’s one of the most gifted scorers he’s seen and it was definitely on display in practice as he is able to create space to get his shot up as well as anyone I’ve seen in a Bison uniform in a while. The only knock offensively I noticed in practice is he can get a little dribble happy from time to time looking to create that space but I have a feeling he’ll settle into the offense nicely. The only thing that may hold back Lance from seeing a lot of minutes early is on the defensive end of the floor, often in high school ball a teams go to scoring threat isn’t asked of too much on the defensive end and it seems it may have been the case with Waddles. A credit to his work ethic, Richman said he’s grown by leaps and bounds on that end since arriving on campus and will only continue to do so as he spends more time in the program but he definitely still has a little ways to go to be the type of defender that will be expected of him in an NDSU uniform.
NDSU was able to land Sam even after his twin brother Jack committed to SDSU. Sam was considered the better prospect of the two by the majority of those in the recruiting world and also held offers from SDSU and Omaha. He stated in a previous interview that NDSU just felt right after his visit and that NDSU was the first D1 program to reach out to him in the recruiting process as well. He has great size and will play that 3/4 combo wing that NDSU likes to deploy when they don’t have the likes of a Grant Nelson on the roster. Sam Griesel started his career that way, AJ Jacobson was that style of player and others before them. In what seems to be a theme with this class, Sam was also very efficient from beyond the arc in high school and his shot has definitely carried over to this level as he was knocking down kick out 3’s at a high clip in practice. Unfortunately, outside of his shooting, on the day I attended practice Sam had a bit of a tough day. He was making a few mistakes in running through the offense and also struggling a bit on defense. To be fair to Sam he spent most of practice attempting to defend Grant Nelson so not too many people are going to have a good day doing that but there were also some miscues in transition. He definitely has the potential to be an impact player for this program, it just depends how long it takes him to get up to speed.
Noah might be a freshman but he sure as heck doesn’t look like one. He’s all of the 6’10” 230lbs he’s listed at on the roster and in Rocky’s vacated number 34 jersey, at least in physicality, it looks like we just rebooted Rocky back to being a freshman. Feddersen was a two sport athlete in high school as he was also a standout tight end in football. Even though he’s 6’10” his skills as a passer and ball handler are two of the more notable things about him. Those skills even led to him bringing the ball up the floor for his team at times his senior year. All that being said he’s definitely more in the mold of the stretch 5 like Rocky was versus a back to the basket guy and at times in practice was playing the 4 while sharing the floor with Streit who would handle the post. Noah is a kid that should definitely provide some depth at the 4/5 positions this year while refining the rest of his game now that he’s a full time hoops player. If you get some spare time, don’t hesitate to go check out some highlight videos of how easy he makes it look to dunk a ball, I’m excited to see what he will turn into after a full year in NDSU’s strength and conditioning program.
Ryan was a late walk-on add to the roster after an open tryout was held to find another body for practice. With Dez still rehabbing and the noted sidelining of Demari and Tajavis, NDSU needed another body to get on the floor for practice. While he did top 1,000 points in his high school career in Larimore, ND, I wouldn’t expect Ryan to see the floor outside of the exhibition and maybe some blowout wins over non-D1 opponents.
That ladies and gentlemen is the squad that will look to make it 5 consecutive appearances in the Summit League tournament championship game. With a lot of youth on the team playing D1 ball for the first time I would definitely expect some growing pains in the first month or two of the season but this team definitely has the talent to win it all and the Summit League may be more open than ever. NDSU has the best front court in the history of the program in my opinion and also the best front court in the Summit League, as long as they can get good guard play out of the newcomers to go along with Skunberg, NDSU should be right in the mix to earn themselves a spot in the big dance come March. I’m going to list 2 expected starting lineups as I believe the team you’ll see next Wednesday versus the team you’ll see in a month from now will look fairly different. Based on what I saw in practice on Wednesday I would expect to see:
PG – Luke Yoder
SG – Jacari White
SF – Boden Skunberg
PF – Grant Nelson
C – Andrew Morgan
Once this team is healthy I expect the depth chart to look like this:
PG – Demari Wheeler-Thomas/Dez McKinney/Luke Yoder
SG – Tajavis Miller/Lance Waddles
SF – Boden Skunberg/Jacari White
PF – Grant Nelson/Noah Feddersen/Sam Hastreiter
C – Andrew Morgan/Joshua Streit
I think there will be a lot of variation in the rotations of the 1-3 spots until coach Richman finds what works best and inevitably trims and settles his rotation to the best 9 guys late in year like we typically see. The nice change with this years team is that there’s no shortage of ball handlers as the Bison have struggled with a bit the last couple years as basically everybody in the PG-SF categories could run the point for this team if needed.
NDSU opens the season with the exhibition Wednesday night at 7pm versus UM-Crookston before heading out to an absolutely brutal schedule to start as they open the season taking on back to back Elite 8 participate and current #10 ranked Arkansas Monday November 7th and then head to reigning national champion and currently ranked #5 Kansas on November 10th. It’s definitely a tall task for this young team to start the year but an opportunity I know they are absolutely excited about. NDSU faced a similar situation back in 2014-15 when they had a young team hit the road to open at Texas and then Iowa where they got blown out in both games before settling into form by the end of the year, winning the Summit League title and giving Gonzaga a run for their money in the first round of the NCAA tournament. So just do me a favor and whatever happens in these first 2 games, just be sure to get out and support the team in their regular season home opener against Pacific on Sunday November 13th and let them show you what they can do. Should be a fun season and look forward to seeing you all out there!