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How Taylor Braun developed into a winner at North Dakota State

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Taylor Braun nearly didn’t play Division I basketball.

The 6-foot-7 North Dakota State redshirt senior forward — and NBCSports.com’s pick for Summit League preseason Player of the Year — was days away from giving up his dream before NDSU head coach Saul Phillips came calling.

“He was three days away from committing to a Division II school in Oregon when we offered him,” Phillips recalled to NBCSports.com. “He was going on a visit and he was going to commit. And we came along and he just didn’t have a whole lot of other options in terms of Division I.”

Phillips acknowledges that the Dakotas aren’t exactly known as a hotbed of hoops talent but the Bison made a NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009 thanks to the play of redshirt senior guard Ben Woodside and a group of other seniors and players the program had taken a chance on and developed.

Now, with Braun leading a group of six seniors with all five starters returning, the Bison are the preseason favorite in the Summit League after losing in last season’s conference tournament championship game to South Dakota State. The long-term growth and development of Braun and those seniors — much like the previous tournament team at North Dakota State — is the main reason why.

“Fargo, North Dakota, isn’t the first place on your mind when you think, ‘Where am I going to go to play Division I basketball?’, Phillips said. “We’ve got to find kids that have something to prove, we have to find kids that have room to grow and we’ve been able to do that with Taylor probably being the poster boy for that progression.”

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Summit League Conference Preview)

The growth of Braun, from Division II player to a viable Summit League Player of the Year candidate, began with hard work and long summers in Fargo. A model of consistency, Braun has averaged 15.4 points per game in each of the last two seasons to go along with 5.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season.

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“At 6-foot-7, he’s very good off-the-dribble, he shoots it well, he’s an explosive finisher around the rim; he can hurt you in so many different ways. And the biggest thing is that as a kid he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s a tough-nosed kid and really sets the tone for the rest of our team in terms of his attitude,” Phillips said of Braun.

A first-team all-Summit selection as a sophomore and second team choice as a junior, Braun can shoot it from anywhere on floor, hitting 45 percent from the field and 43 percent from the three-point line as a junior; both numbers were slightly down from his tremendous sophomore campaign. Braun also broke his foot in January and missed 10 games and didn’t play as efficiently during his junior season.

Despite winning 24 games, and making the CBI, the Bison are still working towards a NCAA Tournament berth with this core group and the team stayed in Fargo for much of the summer working towards that goal. The time spent on campus helped an already tight-knit Bison team — which Braun described as “family-like” multiple times — grow even closer.

“One thing that’s good about here — and I guess a bad thing too, in some cases — is there’s not a lot to do here,” Braun said of the summer in Fargo. “Being up here, our main focus is to get in the gym, get better, get stronger and work to our goals. We’ve gone through this whole experience together. We stayed here all summer. We’re from all over the country and while the other kids on campus went home, we just had each other to hang out with and entertain ourselves. We definitely built some really strong bonds.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

Phillips and Braun both know he’ll be the focal point of an offense that includes senior big man Marshall Bjorkland — who shot a remarkable 67 percent from the field last year, second best in the country — and junior point guard Lawrence Alexander, who has started every game since he’s been on campus and acts as Phillips’ coach on the floor.

“It’s hard to believe he’s only a junior because (Lawrence) and I can finish each other’s sentences now,” Phillips said of his floor general.

Braun also worked on having the ball in his hands this summer with Ben Woodside, who — much like Braun — had minimal D-I interest, using a redshirt year and four seasons at North Dakota State to turn himself into a well-rounded college basketball player and dynamic scorer. Woodside ended his career with a 37-point performance in a NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas and is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,315 points.

The 5-foot-11 Woodside also won Summit League Player of the Year honors his senior season and has had a successful European pro career.

“It’s hard to push yourself sometimes. But working with him, he can go out there and kick your butt, so you have to make sure you go in prepared and focused and he doesn’t allow you to be complacent or get lazy or anything like that,” Braun said of working with Woodside. “He’s done a really good job of pushing me beyond my comfort zone, which really benefits me.”

The NCAA Tournament is the focus for an experienced Bison team after two consecutive seasons tasting the postseason in the CBI. In Braun’s last go, he’d like to go out on top as conference champions with a NCAA Tournament berth to add to his already impressive college basketball career resume.

“I think we have very high expectations coming into the year,” Braun said. “I think with last year and making it to the championship game and coming up short and returning everybody I think the goal is to get there again and win it this year.”

Five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt cuts list to nine

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Five-star Class of 2017 forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been one of the most sought-after recruits in the country since he was a freshman in high school.

The 6-foot-8 native of Houston is beginning to wind things down in the recruiting process as he cut his list to nine schools on Friday. Vanderbilt’s list includes some of the most storied programs in college basketball and plenty of schools from his home state of Texas.

“I just followed my heart. Went with the schools I liked the most and who I have the best relationships with. Thear were the schools I could see myself playing for,” Vanderbilt told NBCSports.com.

Regarded as the No. 13 overall prospect in the Rivals.com national rankings, Vanderbilt is currently recovering from a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

Vanderbilt will see a doctor in three-to-four weeks as he’s currently in a boot to help his foot heal.

Report: Michigan State and Penn State will play at the Palestra

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Head coach Patrick Chambers of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has previously expressed a desire to coach a game at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia and it appears he’ll get his chance in a Big Ten game this season.

According to a report from Brendan F. Quinn of MLive, Penn State will use the Palestra as its home gym for the Jan. 7, 2017 Big Ten game against Michigan State. It is the only time the two teams are scheduled to play during Big Ten season and Penn’s home gym will offer a unique setting for the game.

Since the capacity of the Palestra is 8,722, it should make for a fun atmosphere for both programs since this will be a game both fan bases will likely want to attend.

With Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers making Philadelphia a major recruiting priority for his program, a game like this in Philadelphia makes sense while Michigan State has always been open to playing games in unique settings such as aircraft carriers.

The Palestra has been a college basketball mainstay since it was built in 1927 as it hosts all Penn home games and, in the past, hosted a lot of Big 5 Philadelphia college games between La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.

Overall, a fun idea that should make for an interesting experience for both programs. It’s not often that a team will change its home venue for a conference game, but it could be the start of something we see other schools look to do.

 

OSU officials: Coger died after 40-minute outdoor workout

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18:  Head coach Brad Underwood of the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks reacts in the first half against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 18, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) Oklahoma State basketball player Tyrek Coger died after a 40-minute team workout on the football stadium stairs in hot weather, university officials said Friday.

Coger, a 21-year-old forward who had recently transferred to OSU, did not appear to be struggling during Thursday’s workout at Boone Pickens Stadium, OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said Friday at a news conference. Afterward, Coger sat down and when the team went to check on him, they noticed there were issues.

The team called 911 and paramedics arrived at 5:08 p.m. Coger arrived at Stillwater Medical Center at 5:48 p.m. and was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m., Shutt said.

The temperature at 5 p.m. Thursday in Stillwater was 99 degrees with a heat index of 105 degrees, The Stillwater NewsPress reported.

Oklahoma State basketball coach Brad Underwood broke down Friday as he remembered Coger, noting that he was in Las Vegas on a recruiting trip when he learned of Coger’s death and that the past two days have been the most difficult of his coaching career.

“This is the hardest couple of days I’ve ever experienced in my coaching life. You say goodbye to players when they graduate and that’s one thing,” Underwood said, pausing to wipe away tears with a towel. “Making that phone call to a mother is – there’s no words.”

OSU athletic director Mike Holder says the team will thoroughly examine its practices following Coger’s death. The NCAA’s Sports Medicine Handbook does not provide specific guidelines for when teams should avoid practicing in extreme temperatures.

The handbook says heatstroke is the third-leading cause of sudden death in athletes, and that athletes should be gradually introduced to activity in warm temperatures over a “minimum period of 10 to 14 days.” Coger had been in Oklahoma since July 5, the school said.

The NCAA handbook also provides a list of signs and symptoms of heat injury, notes that heatstroke is most likely to occur at the start of preseason practices and says that some athletes with certain health conditions or athletes who are not adequately in shape can be more susceptible to heatstroke. It was not clear whether that was the case with Coger. In an interview with the Stillwater newspaper published earlier this month, Coger spoke of frequent headaches that plagued him during his high school days. He said he underwent surgery several years ago to drain fluid from around his brain.

“At the moment, I’m thinking `Basketball is over,”‘ he told the newspaper, recalling his feelings at the time of the surgery. “`I gotta think beyond basketball now.”‘

Coger, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, said in the interview that he recuperated from his surgery then started his college career at Eastern Florida State College. He transferred after one season to Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he played last season. The 6-foot-8 player then initially signed with Ole Miss last fall but opted for Oklahoma State after the Southeastern Conference ruled he was ineligible because of rules on junior college transfers.

Shutt also said that under NCAA rules, basketball teams can meet for eight hours a week during the summer – time that can be broken up as two hours on the count and six on strength and conditioning, or all eight on strength and conditioning. NCAA spokesman Christopher Radford confirmed that was the case, and noted that staff members are allowed to conduct and supervise that activity.

In 2012, Coger played a friendly game of one-on-one with Washington Wizards star John Wall, who posted a photo of the matchup on Instagram following Coger’s death. Wall wrote: “Rest in Peace to the lil homie who always had the competitive spirt.. you will be missed Tyrek.”

Coger’s death is the latest tragedy for OSU. Last fall, a driver crashed into a crowd at Oklahoma State’s homecoming parade, killing four spectators and wounding dozens. In 2011, women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and two others died in a plane crash in western Arkansas. And in 2001, 10 people died in a Colorado plane crash, including two men’s basketball players and six staff members.

Associated Press writer Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.

CBT Podcast: Michael Porter Jr., George Washington and non-conference scheduling

Father Tolton Catholic's Michael Porter, Jr. (1) celebrates after sinking a basket and drawing a foul during the first half of the Missouri Class 3 boys high school championship basketball game against the Barstow Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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In today’s podcast we spend quite a bit of time discussing the three major topics of discussion from the last week: The Washington Post’s story on Mike Lonergan and George Washington basketball, Michael Porter Jr.’s commitment to Washington and non-conference scheduling and how it is affected by expansion, both in conference realignment and by the number of games that are played in league.

As always, you can either click “play” in the Soundcloud player below or listen via iTunes or the Stitcher app. You can also subscribe in Audioboom.

NCAA to survey tournament hosts in wake of North Carolina law

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MARCH 19:  Mississippi Rebels and Xavier Musketeers players run by the logo at mid-court during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on March 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In the wake of the NBA announcing that they have decided to pull the All-Star game out of North Carolina due to HB2, a controversial state law that was passed that prevents transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding with the gender which they identify, the NCAA has moved a step closer to doing the same.

On Friday, the association announced that they have sent out a questionnaire to the cities that are planning to bid, and have already received bids, to host NCAA championship sites. That questionnaire follows an announcement in April that “sites hosting or bidding on NCAA events in all divisions” are required to “demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination and also safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event.”

The questionnaire is due back by August 12th for sites that plan on making a bid to host an NCAA championship event in 2018-19 and beyond. The sites of championship events in 2016-17 and 2017-18 have already been awarded. The deadline for those cities to return their questionnaire is to be determined.

A copy of the questionnaire can be found here. It includes the following questions:

  • Has your city, county/parish, and/or state passed anti-discrimination laws that are applicable to all persons?
  • Does your city, county/parish and/or state regulate choice of bathrooms or locker rooms that may affect student-athletes, coaches, administrators, or game officials during the Event?
  • Does your city, county-parish and/or state regulate choice of bathrooms that may affect fans attending the Event?

The NCAA also provided the relevant host cities a chance to explain, in an open-ended question, how they will provide a way for all fans to attend the games without being discriminated against.

The state of North Carolina is slated to host a number of NCAA championship events across all levels, but the most relevant fact here is that, Greensboro, in 2017, and Charlotte, in 2018, are slated to host games during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Traditionally, the state always has a first weekend site because of the proximity of large fan bases that will be able to sell out the arenas.

Earlier this week, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski called North Carolina’s HB2 law “embarrassing“.