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NDSU coach Saul Phillips: 'I'm going to enjoy it'

by Ryan Aber Modified: March 20, 2014 at 9:40 am •  Published: March 20, 2014
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North Dakota State might not win Thursday evening when the No. 12 seed Bison face No. 5 Oklahoma at 6:27 p.m. Oklahoma time in Spokane, Wash.

But NDSU coach Saul Phillips won the press conference on Wednesday night just before his team’s practice at Veterans Memorial Arena.

Phillips started out great, then got better, then turned it up a notch even from there. He was engaging, interesting and downright funny. I mean, here’s virtually everything he had to say because it was nothing but interesting.

Here’s some highlights of what Phillips had to say.

On his team being a trendy upset pick:

I promise you that we don’t view ourselves as anything but an underdog.  And you look at it from any different angle, right down to their coach (Lon Kruger) who is taken five, five programs to the NCAA tournament, they’re the favorite.  They know it, we know it.  They can get mad if they want at the national pundits.  Here’s the funny thing, I would like to know how many people a that picked us have actually seen us play.  I mean come on.  I didn’t see ‑‑ well Digger (Phelps) saw us play.  I didn’t see some of those guys, Obama was not at any of your our games I would have known that one.  He didn’t make his way to Fargo to see us play.

Five‑12s are always trendy, it’s the way it’s always going to be.  We have got some statistics on paper that make us stand out a little bit.  The field goal percentage in particular, the number of upperclassmen we have, but that’s what people are going on.  Like I say, let’s have them dissect our program right now, because I think they would probably struggle to go for more than a minute and a half.

On NDSU’s overall athletic success of late:

It’s fun to see your friends succeed.  I think with this program, one of the biggest things, and it’s genuine, we’re darn near neighbors (speaking to the reporter who asked the question).  We kind of are neighbors, Jeff, you see how we get along.  You see, as a staff up close the relationship that I have with Gene, that I have with Darren Mueller, our softball coach, that have I with Tod Brown, our baseball coach, it’s fun to see friends do well.  It is.

As far as, I mean our athletic department has kind of knocked it out of the park this year, by any means.  You go from the basketball wins, football wins, to the fact that we raised ‑‑ finalized a 41 million dollars campaign or close to finalized.  We’re starting at 41 million dollar renovation of our arena.  That’s a decade for a lot of athletic departments.  So it means, from my perspective, it’s been even more amazing because I got to see it from the inside.

On his team enjoying the moment this week:

I asked them today, right after we watched some film, I said are you guys enjoying this?  And then I went on to tell story after story about goofy phone calls they got or text messages or maybe an e‑mail from a girl that dumped them right before prom saying I probably should have not gone that direction.

Yeah, everybody’s got their stories and they have ‑‑ I hope we stayed loose.  I think we have tried to.  They’re having fun.  I don’t know how loose they were up here, because Taylor Braun, I don’t think is quite as at home in a press conference as some.  Marshall Bjorklund is more comfortable in front of 3,000 pigs than a group of ‑‑ he’s a pig farmer, so I’m not calling anybody in here any names.

(Laughter.)

But, no, when we’re alone and it’s private, it’s rolling pretty loose right now.

On defending Oklahoma’s 3-point shooters:

Yeah, it’s a unique attack that way.  It’s difficult to figure out where your help’s going to come from sometimes.  I think we can lean a little bit on our experience against Denver in our league, who shot a ton of 3′s.  In fact, the last regular season game of the year, they hit 15 3′s against us in a game.  We turned around and played them a week later down in Sioux Falls and we held them to one.

We don’t get a mulligan this time, you got to play the first ball.  So, we better.  They are really good at attacking you off the dribble and freeing up guys flat footed on the perimeter.  As good as anybody we have faced, certainly.

We got issues, but I think every 12 seed’s got issues going in.  That’s a key component to us, yes.  We have got to get them off that line and make them uncomfortable.

On bouncing back from being a bit tight in the Summit League title game:

Well I’ll say this:  That for us, in a lot of ways, and this is going to sound silly to people in this room, but when you’re a mid-major and you’re in a one bid league, in a lot of ways that conference tournament presents more pressure than the next step.  I know we were a lot looser when we played in Minneapolis with the 2009 group than we were prior in Sioux Falls.  We tried to stay loose both times, we did.

But I’m telling you, I’m looking at ‑‑ you look at NIT, CBI games and you can point to games where that team wasn’t interested in playing any more.  It happens.  Everybody wants to make the big dance.  This is the show.  This is where you want to be.

When you’re dealing with that, and when you’re dealing with the singular goal of these guys for four or five years has been to make it here, yeah, I was feeling tight.  But, that seems to kind of the weight’s come off the shoulders a little bit.  I just like this opportunity.  This is fun.

On Oral Roberts rejoining the Summit League:

Who invited them back?  I liked it better without them.

On the perception of the league with ORU wanting back in:

Well, first of all, it’s really good for our league.  I say that, but I mean it’s really good for our league.  I think that’s what you’re getting at.  And I really like their staff.  They’re a class group.  It’s going to be fun having some friends back in the league.

I think it says volumes for our league.  I think our league has come a long way.  And quite honestly, last year at this time if I was being completely truthful, I would have said that we’re going to survive, but I couldn’t have given you a template for how.

Oral Roberts coming back, I think you got to ‑‑ this is a league with up side.  You’ve got some programs right now, UNO coming through this transition is doing pretty darn well already.  And that’s a really good Mid Major situation to recruit to.  IUPUI, moving to a new arena.  Very good situation.  We’re opening a new arena.  It’s really positive, it’s positive for our league, I hope it’s positive for ORU, I know it’s positive for North Dakota State.

Any animosity about ORU leaving?

I’ve got animosity they’re coming back.  No one ever likes seeing them in Sioux Falls.  No, I mean, I’m pretty close with the guys in our conference and I don’t think that’s ever been mentioned.  Yeah, you’re a little miffed when they leave, but they want to come back?  Great.  They like us again.  I don’t think anybody has ‑‑ I shouldn’t speak for everybody, I know I don’t have a chip on my shoulder over that at all.  I’m ‑‑ it’s good.  Hopefully we can build this thing into a multiple bid league, that’s the ultimate goal.  And at least it’s faint on the horizon right now.  It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility down the road.

On his name being mentioned as a possible candidate for the Washington State job:

Yeah.  I mean, it doesn’t mean anything.  I received no contact, I received no contact from anyone.  And you know what?  I really like my boss and I really like my school and if I was thinking about anything other than this group of guys right now, that would be about as selfish as you can get.  Yeah, it’s fun seeing your name in the paper.  You got to understand we’re up in Fargo, man I get on the Inforum, I get on KVLY, I got Bison Illustrated, but to see some national people talking about us, that’s fun.  And they’re not just talking about me, that, our team did this.  As far as when we went in 2009 a lot of people, this is miles team you’re winning with Miles’ team, great, great, great.  You know what?  This is Dave Richmond‘s team, it is my team just as much as it was my team back then as it was (Tim) Miles‘ team.  We’re a group.  You can’t do it alone.  I certainly know after reading the CBS article on how I was the 53rd best player I couldn’t get there by myself.  How about that?  You know what?  The guys are all giving me heck about it.  53rd best player in the tournament.  And I said, you know, I was like, yeah, boy, that’s just not right.  Then I kind of walked away going, 53, that’s pretty high for me.  That’s not bad.  Gave myself a little fist pump.

True story:  One time it was late in the game my senior year, Bo comes over, Bo Ryan gets over in his crouch and the guys behind me are my buddies yelling, ‘We want Saul, we want Saul.’  He leans over in front of me and he goes, ‘Hey, go see what they want.’

(Laughter.)

So that really happened.

On the possible absence of defense in this game:

We’re not going to play any.  It’s fun to watch scoring.  Let’s get up‑and‑down.  Let’s go all Denver Nuggets 1982.  Dan Issel.

No, you got to figure it out.  The first team to figure out a way to get stops, that’s going to be very important.  I know, you look at their defensive stats I think are skewed, because I think they have played a lot better defense as the year’s gone on because they have got a young roster that is getting more and more experience.  I think you could take some of those games early from both of us probably away a little bit with the ref’ing rules.  We played some games where free throws were in the 40′s for a team.

That’s gone away.  Partially because I think we have taught better and partially because you think the refs have a better understanding of what they’re supposed to be calling.

So I look at the here and now.  They’re pretty good defensively and quite honestly, I thought late in the year we went through a stretch there where we went for two or three weeks without anybody scoring 60 on us.  I think we got better too.  That being said, there’s some weapons out on that court offensively.  And that, you know what?  It’s fun to watch those games.  This could be exciting.

If you run out of questions before I run out of answers, that doesn’t bode well for you.  Hop in here.  What have you got?  What did you have for dinner last night?  Anything.

(Laughter.)  There’s no way I let this press conference die before my allotted time.  It’s just not my nature.  Anybody that follows us knows that.

(Laughter.)  Man, oh man.  Okay.  Thank you, brother, I owe you a soda after this baby.

We love most of our coaches in Oklahoma, but if we ever have a job opening would you please apply?

(Laughter.)

I just don’t stop talking, do I?  That’s it, I’m out of here.  No, anybody else?  I’m sorry.

On his openness with the media:

I like the media so much that I sleep with a media member.  It’s my wife.  There’s no ‑‑ she writes an article for the Forum.

Listen, we get so many chances to have this stage, right?  I mean, let’s face it, we do.  I’m going to enjoy it.  This is great.  And I think that again those around me a little more probably realize that I don’t have a lot of bad days.  I’ve known since I was very, very young, third, fourth ‑‑ I’ve always known since I have ever thought about what I was going to do for a living I knew this is what I wanted to do.  And are you kidding me?  Here I sit with all you guys sitting there listening to me.  This is stupid.  I don’t know how this worked out.  But, yeah, I’m going to enjoy it.

by Ryan Aber
OU Athletics Reporter
Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The...
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