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Graupe uses vast coaching knowledge to win games

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson State head women’s basketball coach Mark Graupe draws on his clipboard as he walks toward the locker room at halftime during a nonconference game against Mayville State on Nov. 30 at Scott Gymnasium.

There is no definitive way to coach a sport, only effective ways.

Dickinson State head women’s basketball coach Mark Graupe has a Frankenstein-like coaching philosophy which not only is composed of styles from great coaches, but is also successful.

His philosophy wasn’t created and perfected in a coaching clinic, staring at a chalkboard. From 1994-98, Graupe traveled the country and spent weeks with high-profile Division I basketball coaches, picking their brains and simply watching practices.

Before his road trip binge began, he was a teaching and coaching major at the University of North Dakota sitting in the bleachers watching the men’s teams practice.

“I would go to their practices all the time and just absorb,” Graupe said. “They would let me watch practice. That’s what I found in coaching to be the best. Sometimes in clinics, they show you on chalkboards and I don’t like that. I like to see. So what I did in the ’90s was I traveled all over the country watching what I considered great coaches in action.”

Throughout his travels, Graupe was able to sit and learn from the best — Roy Williams at Kansas, Bob Knight at Indiana, Gene Keady at Purdue, Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, among many others.

With each trip, Grapue was able to fully observe and soak in what was working at each program.

Graupe would then borrow the pieces he liked. At Kansas, it was how practices were run. At Duke, he saw how Coach K’s assistants worked with the post position. He soon formulated his own identity as a coach.

To summarize it, Graupe focuses on the fundamentals and varying drills in order to keep practices fresh and players motivated. He believes in allowing players the ability to call their own offenses and defenses, and have a say in what works for them.

“I try to use my background as a teacher because, I think too often, coaches are dictators,” Graupe said. “They talk too much instead of ask questions. If you ask questions like a high school coach and you’re a teacher at the high school level, you engage their minds you make them think the game.

“Sometimes I think coaches tell too much. Ask them, ‘What should you have done in this situation?’ Engage their minds and have them think it through so they learn the game.”

Moving on up

Graupe’s coaching career spans all levels of basketball, from North Dakota Class B high school all the way to Division I Ivy League basketball.

In 1987, he started at Unity High School (now part of Dakota Prairie High School), where he coached the girls team for three years and the boys team for six. With hopes of jumping from Class B to Class A, he took the head coach position at Devils Lake. He was there from 1993-97 before moving to Williston High School for two years. In 2004, he received his masters from UND in order to get the extra step needed to eventually coach in college.

Graupe got his collegiate start at Lake Region State College, where he coached from 2001-08 and posted a 126-95 overall record. He led his teams to back-to-back NJCAA Region XIII titles in his final two years and was honored as the region’s coach of the year in both campaigns.

The credit for kickstarting and pushing Graupe’s collegiate coaching career forward is one of his closest friends, Tim Miles.

Miles, known in North Dakota as the coach who helped transition North Dakota State to the NCAA Division I level, began his collegiate coaching career at Mayville State. He is now the head coach of the Nebraska men’s basketball team.

Miles persuaded Grapue to get his masters and take on the collegiate ranks. He brought him on as an assistant at Colorado State in 2008.

“He’s always a guy I’ve listened to and I got to be on his staff, and that was really valuable in how I learned how a college basketball program should be run,” Graupe said.

After spending one season at Colorado State, Graupe was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the assistant men’s basketball coach at Dartmouth. He took over as head coach for the 2009-10 season.

Miles said after knowing Graupe for over 20 years, it was obvious he was destined to be a head coach and not an assistant.

“There’s no doubt, he’s got this innate confidence that he deserves,” Miles said. “He’s been through a lot of basketball games. He’s coached the smallest of schools, he’s coached Division I, he’s coached boys, girls, men, women, and learned how to identify with them all across the board, which is pretty amazing stuff.”

Back in the saddle

After decades of coaching experience, Graupe is a vital asset to the DSU coaching staff, especially basketball.

Graupe joined DSU in September and the team has built a 13-9 record so far this season. The Blue Hawks finished 8-20 the previous season.

Not only can he use his vast knowledge for his own team, but for the men’s team as well.

Graupe and DSU head men’s basketball coach Ty Orton have built a partnership which allows them to bounce ideas off one another and, in turn, help grow each other’s programs.

“Ty is wonderful to work with and I think the Dickinson State people should realize how fortunate they are to have Ty Orton on staff,” Graupe said. “He’s been wonderful for me.”

While on the road, Graupe has taken over the role of bench coach and offers Orton an outsider’s view on the game as well as a useful teaching tool for his team.

“It’s been a while since I’ve has a guy who’s been around the block and seen a lot of basketball, seen the game and understands those things,” Orton said. “Our younger guys do a great job, like (assistant coach) Sean (Sterkel). But having an experienced guy like Mark really adds another dimension to the team and really helps out the bench and eases a lot of the tension.”

Graupe passion and dedication for basketball, his infectious and positive attitude toward the game and his players has made him a unique coach who has had to earn his success at every level.

“I don’t think there’s any question, after coaching with Mark and watching Mark’s teams — whether they’re high school level, junior college level or even at Dartmouth — he can coach anywhere and be successful,” Miles said. “He’s a really bright-minded guy. He cares about his players almost to a fault and he really understands the game. He made it his life and his passion and he’s also a good friend.”

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.