FARGO — One player has departed and one player emerged in games played in Puerto Rico and North Dakota State has the look of a men’s basketball team that could make some noise again this season.
The Bison took advantage of an NCAA-allowable foreign trip to set the stage after making a run through the Summit League tournament and reaching the NCAA Division I tournament last season. They did that with 6-foot-6 guard Jaxon Knotek on the bench, but that may not be the case this season.
Knotek, a sophomore from River Falls, Wisconsin, averaged 17 points in three games, including 23 in a final-game 94-73 win over Guaynabo.
“Jaxon is extremely confident,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman. “He’s taken some great strides. Physically, he looks terrific, is really strong and shot extremely well. And just as important, he made some good strides defensively in understanding what we’re doing.”
NDSU may need him with Jordan Horn leaving the team. The junior guard did not accompany the team to Puerto Rico and will apparently transfer to another school. With NDSU having a deep bench, it appears playing time was an issue.
“We love and support Jordan and wish him nothing but the best as he continues to pursue his dreams on and off the court,” Richman said.
Horn played in 25 games last season averaging 4.4 points and 11.8 minutes per game. That was more than Knotek, who played sparingly in 11 games averaging 1.6 points.
Knotek took advantage of some top-of-the-line Bison players sitting out the Puerto Rico games. Guard Sam Griesel did not play after playing for the German U20 National Team in the European Championships this summer.
Griesel played in seven games in a nine-day stretch in a program that included two-a-day practices.
“He had so much mileage down the stretch,” Richman said.
Moreover, forward Rocky Kreuser and guard Tyree Eady did not play because of minor injuries, Richman said.
“I think the encouraging part from a coach’s perspective is we didn’t see much of a dropoff,” Richman said. “Guys took steps forward. In the grand scheme of things, it could help us build that depth and validate things.”
True freshmen Noah Christensen from Breckenridge, Minn., and Maleeck Harden-Hayes from Moorhead were able to play without endangering their eligibility status — should they redshirt this season. Both contributed.
Harden-Hayes had 11 points and Christensen eight rebounds in the opening game.
“At first glance, both look like basketball players — long and athletic,” Richman said. “Noah has a high level of skill. Maleeck is a big-time athlete with a great competitive motor and spirit.”
NDSU will take two weeks off before school and preseason workouts get going in full force.
“It’s vitally important for the kids to get away from everything for a week or two to recuperate,” Richman said. “We got better from each game on the court.”