Great example of why it’s so much fun to cheer for the Bison and Saul. This quote in today’s NY Times : “On Friday, Phillips went to the spot on the Spokane Arena floor where Alexander released his shot. Phillips bent down and kissed it.
“Two big lip marks right there,” Phillips said.”
I’m picking the mighty NDSU Bison to dunk the San Diego State Aztecs 71 – 65 tonight. Go BISON!!
Below is an excellent article in today’s New York Times. Thanks for the fun Bison and let’s all enjoy the Big Dance!
SPOKANE, Wash. — The fun began long before North Dakota State Coach Saul Phillips, in the middle of a news conference Friday (the man has turned scripted drudgery into performance art), asked his boss for a raise. Phillips joked that he got the job in the first place because he “had pictures” of his boss, the athletic director, who just laughed.
“I can rip them up now,” Phillips said in the afterglow of the university’s first N.C.A.A. tournament victory, an 80-75 overtime win over Oklahoma on Thursday. “I’m safe.”
It truly began seven years ago, when Phillips was a North Dakota State assistant and the head coach, Tim Miles, left for Colorado State. (He now coaches Nebraska.) Phillips went to the office of the athletic director, Gene Taylor.
“ ‘Please, please, give me the chance,’ ” Taylor recalled Phillips saying. “He literally pounded on my desk.”
Every spring, it seems, a little-known team and a big personality emerge from the chaos of the N.C.A.A. tournament to capture more than an equal share of attention. This year, the first candidates are North Dakota State and Phillips, 41. The Bison, seeded 12th in the West Region, play the No. 4 seed San Diego State on Saturday.
No one, at least this side of Mercer, is having more fun than North Dakota State. And no collegiate athletic department is riding a bigger crest of momentum.
“About as good as it gets,” Taylor said.
The football team has won three consecutive national championships in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision — the one with the playoffs, not the bowls. The past four years, the Bison have beaten upper-division Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado State and Kansas State.
But Thursday’s basketball victory was bigger, Taylor said. Such things are hard to measure, but Taylor told the story of a friend who wore a North Dakota State jacket into a Washington, D.C., bar to watch Thursday’s game. The bar erupted in excitement when guard Lawrence Alexander made a 3-pointer to force overtime, and patrons cheered the Bison to victory, 3,000 miles from Spokane and a world away from the college’s campus in Fargo.
“He told me, ‘The next thing I know, I had 17 beers in front of me for free,’ ” Taylor said of his friend.
The victory gives North Dakota State unusual and unexpected attention. And no one handles attention better than Phillips.
“I mean, he’s goofy, crazy at times, but a great coach to play for,” Alexander said.
On Friday, Phillips went to the spot on the Spokane Arena floor where Alexander released his shot. Phillips bent down and kissed it.
“Two big lip marks right there,” Phillips said.
Phillips, married and the father of three, was raised in Wisconsin and played at Wisconsin-Platteville for Bo Ryan, now the head coach at Wisconsin. He spent two seasons as an assistant to Ryan and, later, three years as his operations manager. He came to North Dakota State in 2004 as an assistant to Miles.
What makes Phillips different is that he is the rare basketball coach who appears to have fun coaching. He credits that to his time with Miles, during lean years as North Dakota State transitioned from Division II to Division I. During one game, players were a bit out of control, and Phillips recommended they slow the tempo. Miles disagreed.
“We’re not very good right now,” Phillips recalled Miles’s saying. “But we’re not going to be bad and boring. Let’s have some fun.”
For Phillips, who said that he came out of the womb “with a smile on my face,” it has been a core coaching philosophy.
It was one of his more serious responses on Friday. Phillips uses reporters like straight men (and women). Among his more notable responses to a string of serious questions:
■ On the San Diego State star guard Xavier Thames: “I’m hoping there’s an elevator malfunction, and he gets caught in the elevator.”
■ On the physical play against Oklahoma: “Last night, the locker room looked like Chuck Wepner after a fight.”
■ On the team’s battered faces, including that of Marshall Bjorklund: “Marshall’s got a nose; he can smell around corners, man.”
■ On competing against San Diego State Coach Steve Fisher: “He gets to recruit to San Diego — beaches, weather. It’s just not fair. I mean, they should spot us 10 points. We’re in Fargo. We have got beaches, but the lake’s frozen over the whole time, so it doesn’t make any difference.”
(Later, he extolled the virtues of Fargo, with its young population and energy. “Now, it’s cold,” he said. “Bring a jacket. You can take it off when you get inside.”)
The humor is contagious among the players, none of whom had scholarship offers from bigger, better-known basketball programs. (“We’re the great unwashed,” Phillips said.) After the game, when Phillips said of Alexander, “I love him and he’s a winner,” Alexander replied, “I love you, too, Saul.”
Guard Taylor Braun, the Summit League player of the year, joked that the game was no big deal. “Honestly, I don’t know what all the hype is about,” he said. (He quickly conceded that it was “unbelievable” and that “the atmosphere was 100 times greater than expected.”)
Bjorklund, whom Phillips takes great pride in announcing is a pig farmer, was asked about the rough play against Oklahoma.
“I guess down low it was almost like a bar fight,” Bjorklund said.
“So you hear,” Phillips said. “So you hear.”
Taylor, the athletic director, knows that bigger programs may soon be trying to lure Phillips. North Dakota State’s football coach, Craig Bohl, recently left for a bigger opportunity.
“We re-upped Saul last year,” Taylor said, referring to Phillips’s contract. “But I just re-upped my football coach last year, too, and he went to Wyoming.”
Let’s go Bison!….. Let’s go BISON!!….. Let’s GO BISON!!………LET’S GO BISON!!!