Orton has Hawks flying in right direction
Heartbreak is the only word that can describe the scene in the Dickinson State men's basketball team's meeting room in the minutes following Wednesday night's loss to Minot State.
There wasn't a dry eye to be found as players and coaches shared handshakes and hugs that lasted longer than most men will ever share with another man.
In those brief minutes, it was evident how much progress Blue Hawks coach Ty Orton has made in just two years heading the program.
"They know it's not that we lost," Orton said. "They know that it's over."
With the help of assistant coaches Tim Daniel, Devin Gonzales and Andre Goldberg, Orton has turned a team that just three years ago had a faltering reputation in the community into one of DSU's most upstanding and admired programs.
Orton believes the transition started last year with a group of four transfers he brought in for his first season as head coach, as well as one of the lone holdovers from the previous team, Drew Erhardt.
Those juniors became seniors this season and, with the addition of another in Tomaul Hawkins, helped bring the team back into the limelight after four consecutive losing seasons.
But, for Orton, it doesn't start and stop with his players' actions when they're wearing their DSU uniforms.
"The best thing about them, all of our seniors, you could trust them with your child," said an emotional Orton on Wednesday night. "I could take my child, and say, 'Hey, watch Tristan for a while,' and every one of them would do the best that they could to make sure he was safe, fed, diapers changed, everything. They're the best kids around."
And that is a credit to Orton.
Before he came to DSU, the program was a ship that was dang near sunk.
Players came and went. Few had impacts on the community off the basketball court, and some just didn't make the grade in the classroom.
When one of Orton's players was declared ineligible to play earlier this season, he was sent packing. The attitude change helped turn the program back into a winner this season.
The Blue Hawks won their first seven Dakota Athletic Conference games and finished second in the regular-season standings.
Their season ended with an 84-73 overtime loss in front of a packed crowd at Scott Gymnasium with the rowdiest and most energetic student section I've seen in my three seasons covering the team.
Ending their season at 17-13 might not be a big deal for most programs. But, this season was about more than just wins. It was about building a better program with a better attitude.
Will this team be the building block for something great? We'll know that soon enough.
What we know is that Orton, with his button-downed program and straight-laced, mature players, is in the process of creating a memorable legacy as a coach who did more with his team than just win games.