New coach has high hopes for NDSU
North Dakota State announced Monday morning that former Emporia State head coach and Kansas assistant Jory Collins would become the new leader of the Bison women’s basketball program.
Athletic director Matt Larson introduced Collins the following afternoon with his constituency in the room. No, that wasn’t the local press or the cadre of NDSU brass in the room. It was the remainder of the women’s basketball roster sitting in the back corner.
By all accounts, the process of searching for a new steward for the once-prestigious program was extensive. “It took about six or seven weeks,” Larson said. “We needed to get this right for a lot of reasons, but most particularly for the eight women in the back of the room.”
Those eight women in workout clothes are the last remainders of the failed Maren Walseth era. Particularly in this past season, it was a period marked by a pair transfers and the end-of-season Sarah Jacobson saga.
All told, the tumult in Walseth’s final act resulted in a slimmed down roster that’s roughly half of the allowable 15 scholarships.
While acknowledging that it’s considerably late in the process, Collins said he would ideally hope to add one or two more players to fill the squad. “(My wife) Casey can tell you, I haven’t been off the phone for probably the last 72 hours,” Collins commented.
Beyond that though, the Walseth era was marked by losing, and a whole lot of it. Outside of his short-term recruiting desires, Collins’ much larger task is to right the ship.
“I don’t think they’ve had a winning record here since 2009-10. That’s got to change,” he said.
Without giving a benchmark, Collins made it clear that change would be coming rapidly. “It’s our goal to get this thing going in the right direction as fast as possible,” he said. “We’re going to add some consistency to what we do that you’re going to see night in and night out. You’re going to see the growth, and it’s going to happen (quickly).”
The ultimate goal is to wrestle the power in the Summit League away from South Dakota and South Dakota State. According to Collins, that too will be accomplished in short order. “We’re going to zero in on a few things we’re going to get really good at,” he said. “Pretty soon, we’re going to get to a level where we can compete at the top of the Summit League and then hopefully beyond that.”
Collins has the head-coaching track record to back his lofty ambitions. Collins won three-quarters of his games at Emporia State, with four seasons of 28 or more wins. He took Emporia State to six NCAA Division II Tournaments, appearing in the Sweet 16 four times and once in the Final Four. He never won fewer than 17 games as a head coach.
Collins though has never undertaken a reclamation project, which he will face at NDSU. He took over the Emporia State program the year after it had won a Division II national championship.
While the circumstances are different, Collins said he still feels he’ll be able to grapple with the pressure of reviving NDSU. “There’s also a lot of pressure with taking over a national championship team,” he explained. “You go 3-3 to start the year in some places and everyone is clapping for you. In other places that’s unacceptable.”
Another critical area for Collins to transform will be the Bison’s identity. Under Walseth, NDSU’s style of play became increasingly more difficult to pinpoint.
“We’re going to try to put a team out on the floor that number one plays with a relentless effort, that plays as hard as any team you’ve seen play here, hopefully in a really long time,” Collins said.
The dynamics on the hardwood are yet to be determined. “A lot of (our style) is going to be determined by our players,” Collins said. “If we have to play slow and grind it out to get a win, that’s what we’ll do to start. If we need to play with our hair on fire and get a little reckless, then we’ll play that way.”
Fundamentals will be at the heart of Collins’ overhaul. “We’re going to shore up some fundamentals and parts of the game that we have control of,” he remarked. “We’re going to get good at things that happen often in the game. Rebounding, transition defense, those things are areas of the game where you can win or lose by a lot.”
The ultimate goal is to field a team that reflects its city and state. “I want our program and our team to be a reflection of the city of Fargo and the kind of people that live here,” Collins stated. “I want people to sit in the stands to be able to see themselves in our players.”
Naturally, at the heart of emulating North Dakota will be recruiting in-state. Collins admitted he hadn’t previously spent a great deal of time in the Dakotas, but did develop connections in Iowa, Nebraska and the Twin Cities.
“We are going to start regionally,” Collins said. “Any North Dakota young lady that can help us win games, we are going to give 100% effort to get her to come be a Bison.”
Whether Collins’ aspirations translate into wins remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the NDSU’s women’s basketball program has already made a demonstrative shift.