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All grown up

Photo by Jay Pickthorn/The Forum/Forum Communications Co. North Dakota State senior forward Brett Winkelman goes up for a dunk during the first half Tuesday night against Mayville State at the Bison Sports Arena. The Bison set three school records in the season-opening victory over the Dakota Athletic Conference school.1 / 2
Lucas Moormann2 / 2

FARGO -- There was a time when Ben Woodside thought his coach was scary. There was a time when Lucas Moormann was a skinny, 6-foot-9 center clueless what NCAA Division I basketball had in store for him. There was a time when Brett Winkelman thought his first year in college was going to last forever.

And there was a time five years ago when Mike Nelson committed to a North Dakota State men's basketball program that was diving into the uncertain world of Division I.

"That was a long time ago," Nelson said. "Back then, there was nothing promised to us. It's just a blessing that it all fell into place for us. Now we get one shot at it."

What fell into place three years ago was NDSU's conference home with The Summit League. Now eligible for Division I postseason play for the first time, Woodside, Moormann, Winkelman and Nelson begin their final seasons at NDSU with one goal in mind -- play in the NCAA tournament known as the Big Dance.

The four seniors and their teammates would automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament by winning The Summit League postseason tournament next March.

"We haven't really put it into perspective yet," said Woodside, a point guard from Albert Lea, Minn., who could become NDSU's all-time leading scorer. "There certainly is a different mentality now, knowing we have an opportunity to go after something this school has never had a chance at before. We're seniors now. It's a little different than when we were redshirt freshmen."

As redshirt freshmen, the group often dubbed as the Fab Four were playing for Tim Miles: the head coach Woodside thought was a little scary "but I got used to in a hurry."

They also were scout-team players for assistant coach Saul Phillips. Before their junior years, Miles left for Colorado State and Phillips became the head coach.

"We just bonded very quickly on the scout team," said Nelson, a 3-point shooting guard from Madison, Wis.

They bonded enough to pull off an upset at nationally ranked Wisconsin as freshmen, and enough to knock off nationally ranked Marquette as sophomores.

"I never thought we would beat a Wisconsin or a Marquette," Woodside said.

Phillips often says it's doubtful NDSU will ever see such a talented class again. Woodside, Winkelman and Nelson could end up as the No. 1, 3 and 7 all-time scorers. Moormann, now 40 pounds heavier than he was his redshirt year, could end up third in blocked shots.

The plan to save this group for NDSU's first year of tournament eligibility is working.

"Man, you look back on it now, it has flashed by," said Moormann, who won a state high school championship his junior year at Dickinson High School. "We really don't know what it's like to play for something ... not since high school anyway."

"We were always hoping we would get this chance," said Winkelman, an all-conference forward from Morris, Minn. "The hoping is over now ... it's history."

Now, they hope to make history.

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