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DSU's Wetzel to coach in NBA G League

Justin Wetzel addresses the Dickinson State men's basketball team during an October 2015 practice at Scott Gym. Wetzel coached the Blue Hawks from 2014-17. (Press File Photo)

Dickinson State head basketball coach, Justin Wetzel, helped turn the Blue Hawks into a winning program again over his three years at the university, but last week he was given an offer he simply couldn't turn down.

In its inaugural season, Wetzel will be assistant coach of the Wisconsin Herd, the NBA's G League affiliate of the Milwaukee Bucks.

"It's an exciting time for the G League," Wetzel said. "What's most exciting is getting to work with tremendous people. People who are going to be honest with you and shoot you straight. From the general manager down to our head coach, they're just an honest, classy organization."

Wetzel has coached basketball teams of all levels from high school, to Division I Montana State, to the Continental Basketball league, to DSU, and now back to the professional league.

Before coaching at the college level, Wetzel was an assistant coach for the CBA's Great Falls Explorers and was head coach for the Butte Daredevils in 2008. He said coaching in a league that functions like a business will be the most jarring part of the transition.

"It's just the way that level is," Wetzel said. "Jobs are on the line, players included, coaches included, front office. I've never been afraid of a challenge and I hope I can just learn. I'm really approaching this with the utmost humility. I get to learn from some of the best basketball minds in the world."

The Herd is one of four expansion teams to debut this year in the Gatorade League, which is designed to develop NBA prospects. Wetzel's Dawson Community College teammate, Jordan Brady, was named head coach and it was Brady who offered Wetzel the position.

"We were teammates in college," Wetzel said. "A long time ago, I'm talking 16 years ago, but we maintained a relationship and just as we both climbed in our respective careers, we just always kept a personal, professional relationship."

Wetzel announced last week he would be leaving DSU without giving specifics, as the Herd hadn't announced his hire yet. He wanted to tell the university and players as soon as possible that his time in Dickinson had ended. Wetzel said the players would not only be the hardest goodbye, but what he will miss the most.

"They made a commitment to come to a struggling program when we got here," Wetzel said. "That isn't easy. They made a commitment to come here and turn this thing around. And make no mistake about it, they turned it around. I was just simply the guy in the seat when they did it. I don't take that lightly. I really don't. They're going to be fine without me. I'm fortunate they let me be a part of it."

In 2014, Wetzel inherited a team that went 8-19 overall the year before. In the 2016-2017 season, the Blue Hawks went 22-11 and won their first conference championship since 2001. The team earned just the eighth 20-win season in 93 years of DSU basketball.

"It wasn't easy," Wetzel said. "It was a grind of a three years to get this thing going. There were a lot of hours spent in this (office), but the players made it worth it."

His wife, Jordan, is also leaving her post as the assistant athletic trainer at Dickinson State and moving to Wisconsin.

"My wife played a big part in this," Wetzel said. "It takes a special woman to be a coach's wife."

While the university is still in the early phases of finding a new head coach, Wetzel departs for his new position on Thursday, Sept. 28. The Herd's season starts in early November.

"Forty-eight hours ago I was sitting in the Milwaukee Bucks NBA facility," Wetzel said. "How does a small town boy from Montana end up there, you know? It was very humbling going out there this past weekend and meeting with guys. I'm just excited. I am content because I left this (program) better than when I found it."