Jacobson’s success testament to hard work
FARGO -- The second-leading scorer on the North Dakota State men's basketball team -- A.J. Jacobson -- is about the same size and took the same redshirt path as last year's leading scorer. Is Jacobson the next Taylor Braun?...
FARGO - The second-leading scorer on the North Dakota State men’s basketball team - A.J. Jacobson - is about the same size and took the same redshirt path as last year’s leading scorer. Is Jacobson the next Taylor Braun?
Hold your expectations, says Bison head coach Dave Richman, mainly because they are not the same player.
“At this stage, Taylor was clearly a better athlete, better length, but maybe not the skill or basketball I.Q. A.J. has at this point,” he said.
Jacobson is averaging 10.3 points heading into an important Summit League regular-season road swing starting tonight at the University of Denver. It concludes Saturday at South Dakota State.
The 6-foot-7 Braun graduated last year after leading the Bison to the NCAA tournament. As a freshman in 2010-11, he averaged 8.2 points and 5.7 rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Jacobson is at 10.3 points and 4.2 rebounds.
In an oddity, Jacobson has been a better shooter on the road than at home in the last month. He’s 11 of 24 from 3-point range in NDSU’s five Summit League road games compared to 4 of 18 in the league’s four conference home games.
“You learn that every game is going to be a battle,” Jacobson said. “Every team out there is competitive, and you have to show up and play your best game because everyone out there is playing their best.”
Jacobson has overcome an early season knee injury that caused him to miss five games. Once back, he’s been part of a surprising season to date for NDSU, which is on top of the Summit standings at 9-2 (17-7 overall). The Bison returned to the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll this week coming in at No. 22.
Jacobson was a redshirt last year and watched the Bison finish at No. 3 in that poll.
“When push comes to shove, I feel like it was the right decision,” he said.
It was a learning experience going against Braun every day in practice, with the result, Jacobson said, making him a better player. Redshirting promising recruits is nothing new at NDSU. Jacobson points to former standouts Ben Woodside, Mike Nelson and Brett Winkelman.
“Guys like that, it gives testament to North Dakota State how we develop players here,” Jacobson said.
Of NDSU’s top seven players, three redshirted with forward Dexter Werner and center Chris Kading the other two. The current mix has worked.
In a testament to team play, the seven principal players in the Bison rotation are averaging between 4.1 and 5.7 rebounds per game. Jacobson is the team’s second-best free throw shooter at 84 percent, just behind Paul Miller’s 86 percent.
Jacobson can play all over the place, often starting as the No. 4 player, or power forward, on the floor. He can move to the small forward or shooting guard spots when needed.
The biggest question mark on Jacobson coming in was his defense. Or, more specifically, would he be able to match up to Summit League veterans?
“We’re very pleased with A.J.’s progress in that way,” Richman said. “A.J. wants to be good, he works at it. He studies tape, understands that maybe it’s not his strength and tries to lock in on it more.”
In the big picture, NDSU is hoping for a top two regular-season finish. It would mean a first round Summit tournament game on a Saturday, and if the Bison win, would mean Sunday off.
There are road blocks all over the place on this trip, however. Denver played NDSU tough at Scheels Arena and was picked second in the preseason poll. More daunting, SDSU will not have played a game for a week.
“They’re going to be sitting on us for a week,” Richman said. “It will be a quick turnaround for us. There are plenty of challenges both nights.”