Freshman showcasing potential as an everyday starter
Sam Griesel had made the life-defining decision of where he was going to spend the next four years of his life. Just six months later, he’d gone a completely different path.
Most 18-year-olds only need to make a college decision once. Griesel had to go through the process twice. In November of his senior year of high school, Griesel committed to South Dakota. The Coyotes won out over Drake, North Dakota State and Omaha. When USD head coach Craig Smith left to take over at Utah State, however, the process of finding a new home started over.
Griesel paid a second visit to Fargo and Bison head coach David Richman. The second visit was all he needed to remake his college choice. “NDSU had always been in the back of my mind because I came on an official visit here in my first recruiting process. I always loved it up here, but the distance got to me the first time,” Griesel explained.
For Griesel — a native of Lincoln, Nebraska — part of the appeal of South Dakota was the proximity to his home city. Vermillion is a short three-hour drive from Lincoln, whereas Fargo is seven hours north. With another chance to visit Fargo, Griesel’s apprehensions faded, leading to his signing with the program in late May. “The second time around I said that it doesn’t really matter to me anymore,” he stated. “I got to know the other players, and it felt like home.”
Griesel was more than happy to call the new Sanford Health Athletic Complex home. “Obviously, the fan base is the best in the Summit League,” Griesel said. “We get the most home attendance in the Summit League, and playing for them and having a lot of people at our games really helps.”
Griesel’s commitment to NDSU came with another benefit: it has translated to an immediate role in the starting lineup. Griesel has started all but two of the 17 games in which he has featured, averaging 25 minutes on the court per game. After an 11-game injury spell, Griesel jumped back into his starting role. It’s a role he likely won’t release throughout the remainder of his time in Fargo, which is good news for himself, Richman and everyone involved.
Experience in the AAU ranks, especially in the summer prior to his arrival on campus, helped prime Griesel for the starting job. “My AAU team and my summer AAU season really helped me because we played in the Adidas Gauntlet Series. We played a lot of high-profile players in that, and I kind of got used to the speed and the pace of an up-tempo game,” he said.
The idea of a potential four-year starter in Griesel — as well as fellow returning starters Rocky Kreuser, Jared Samuelson, Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward — has Bison faithful and even opponents expecting great things from NDSU in the future. According to Richman, opposing coaches have already posited that the Bison will rank No. 1 in next year’s Summit League preseason poll.
The notion isn’t lost on Griesel. “We all love each other. We’re a tight-knit group. We don’t have any problems with any players on our team,” he remarked. “Obviously, you want to focus on this year, but when you get the chance to look in the future, it’s a really bright future for us. We’re really excited.”
That future includes the remaining task at hand in the current season. The Bison sit fourth in the Summit League with two games at South Dakota and Purdue Fort Wayne still to be played. After that, three wins in Sioux Falls would bring about an earlier-than-anticipated coronation for the Herd’s young core.
There’s still the matter of day-to-day improvements for Griesel, who is still adapting to Division I basketball. Even for the 6-foot-6-inch, 210-pound Griesel, the physical disparity is still a challenge. “Everyone is just as athletic or even more athletic as you,” he said. “In high school, you were able to drive by someone and finish at the rim. In college, it’s a lot different with a lot bigger people and more athleticism. It’s harder to just get by people and finish at the rim.”
Shooting is still an aspect of his game that needs to rise to the college level, Griesel admitted. His 47.4 percent mark from the field is solid, but he’s yet to see a great deal of volume. It might be harder compared to high school, but Griesel is nimble enough to drive past defenders from the wings and score. He’s seen his scoring average rise each month, and it’s worth wondering where his offensive progression might be had he not been injured.
“You can always improve on everything,” he said. “I think it’s important for me not to just stay content, but to keep building on every game and getting better and better.”
The Bison’s meeting with North Dakota Jan. 19 was one such example of a building block for Griesel. The freshman finished 4 of 6 from the field and added 11 rebounds in his 32 minutes played in the narrow 67-65 win.
Keeping teammates involved and pestering opponents on defense are Griesel’s strong suits. “I feel like I am a really unselfish player,” he said. “I feel like I can do just about anything on the court. I think my versatility really helps me.”
Becoming a first-year mainstay in the lineup has forced Griesel into an unusual position for a freshman. Leadership comes with the territory, a responsibility that Griesel has taken in stride while respecting his place on the totem pole. “At some points I think everyone on your team can be a leader in their own different ways,” Griesel commented. “Especially this year, I think (I am) more of a lead by example type of leader, not really a vocal leader.”
“Just do what I’m told and do it to the best of my ability,” is how Griesel summed it up. With more work to be done, Sam Griesel’s best is still to come.