NDSU returns to Big Dance

FARGO -- North Dakota State learned in 2009 that there's more than basketball to the NCAA tournament. When the Bison won the Summit League tournament title, the ensuing 10 days were a test in organizational skills.

Saul Phillips
Photo by Steven Branscombe / USA TODAY North Dakota State head coach Saul Phillips celebrates after defeating the Fort Wayne in the championship game of the Summit Conference tournament at Sioux Falls Sports. The Bison defeated the Mastodons 60-57.

FARGO - North Dakota State learned in 2009 that there’s more than basketball to the NCAA tournament. When the Bison won the Summit League tournament title, the ensuing 10 days were a test in organizational skills.
Specifically, every media outlet imaginable wanted to hear about the story of a program making the tourney in its first year of Division I eligibility.
“I think my sleep deprivation reached uncharted heights,” said head coach Saul Phillips. “From a personal standpoint, I’ll talk to anybody nationally who wants to talk, because I think we have a great story. I want to put that story out there because I think it’s worth being told.”
The Bison qualified for the Big Dance for the second time in school history with a 60-57 win over Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne on Tuesday night. Predictably, Phillips’ phone blew up with text and phone messages in the few hours afterward - too many to immediately respond to.
But then there are notes like the one he got from the wife of his deceased high school basketball coach, who left a text message saying how proud she figured he was of Phillips.
“I hadn’t heard from her in 15 years,” Phillips said. “How do you not respond to that on the spot?”
There was a lot of responding to media requests in 2009 by NDSU sports information men’s basketball director Ryan Perreault. It started not long after NDSU defeated Oakland University (Mich.) with a few national radio shows that wanted Phillips on right away.
The following days were non-stop, Perreault said.
To help with planning, he had an organizational chart each day with blocks of 15 minutes each. He estimated it was 75 percent full. What keeps the head coach up late, Perreault said, is he’s not able to do the normal game preparation with all the interview requests and other demands on his time.
Phillips on Wednesday also stressed it’s a good problem to have, especially for his players.
“I really want them to enjoy it. They earned it,” he said. “I think we’ll be dangerous in the tournament, but the bottom line is we have six seniors that this will be the athletic highlight of their life. Period. If you get wrapped up in everything else and don’t take a deep breath, you’re missing the best part of it. There are little old ladies in California who are going to pick us in their bracket because they like the way TrayVonn (Wright) dunks.”
This year, Wes Offerman gets the pleasure of handling the sports information duties. He was a student worker at Northern Iowa when the Panthers reached the Sweet 16 in 2010, but this will be his first full-time experience with the tournament.
“I don’t think it gets any better as an SID than the NCAA tournament,” Offerman said. “The only thing that would beat that of course would be a couple wins in the tournament.”
Plus, Perreault said, Offerman has a battle-tested coach to work with who has been through the experience.
“Saul’s fantastic, and he’s shown in his press conferences that he enjoys the spotlight and handles it well,” Perreault said. “He was open and willing to do anything that came his way. It’s good exposure for the program and the university.”

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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