I chatted with North Dakota State basketball coach Saul Phillips on Monday evening and wrote about the North Dakota State success story for the Wednesday Oklahoman. You can read that column here.
Talking with Phillips was a pleasure. He comes from a different world, as you know. I mean, Lon Kruger is as accessible and accommodating as it gets, but this was even moreso. The North Dakota State folks gave me Phillips’ direct line, I called him after hours, he answered, we chatted and he told me to call back anytime. Just like it was 1983.
Then Wednesday morning here in Spokane, Wash., I wake up to read that Spokane Spokesman-Review columnist John Blanchette has identified Phillips as a prime candidate to become the coach at Washington State, which fired its coach, Ken Bone, on Tuesday.
Anyway, Phillips had lots of interesting things to say Monday, so I thought I would share them with you. We’ll hear more from Phillips later Wednesday at the press conference for the OU-NDSU game in the NCAA Tournament.
On the Sooners: “It’s funny, because you’re hoping and praying for a 12 seed, you’re all excited you’re making the tournament at our level, you sit around for a week thinking about what you might get. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling, feeling great about life. Then the draw comes out, and you think, ‘What did we get our self in to?’”
More on the Sooners: “It’s not just this year. Look out for them in years to come. It seems like he’s (Lon Kruger) got really good young talent on that roster. They’re really good on pressure. Limits what we can do. We’ve gotta take care of the basketball, gotta make good decisions. Outcoaching him’s out of the question, so we’ve got to throw everything at ‘em.”
On the history of 12 seeds pulling first-round upsets: “As players, we’ve got to keep it a little more simple than that. Our guys feel they can play with anyone. The’ve gone to some hostile environments and presented themselves pretty well. They’re confidence is not a problem. Those are random numbers drawn but doesn’t help when going against a team like Oklahoma.”
On 6-foot-7 North Dakota State star Taylor Braun: “He’s 6-7, and awfully quick off the dribble. He can score at the rim, he can score from deep, but really, the biggest key with him is what he creates for others. He touches the stat sheet in a lot of ways without having the ball in his hands. He sets up his cuts very well. He’s very well-rounded. I think that’s the biggest thing. Then you throw in his size. It’s different than a lot of two-guards from mid-major conferences.”
On OU’s shaky defense at times during this season: “Their struggles on defense early, they were throwing out all kinds of underclassmen, they’re just learning how to play defense. Not a lot of kids coming out of high school are polished and ready to play defense. They (OU) can do some things to disrupt you. They’ve got enough athletes, they can make it difficult on you to pressure. Are we able to handle what they can throw at us?”
On North Dakota State’s size advantage: “We’ve played pretty well against both styles. We’ve played so many games against so many different styles. Notre Dame had a big team (and the Bison won in South Bend). It’s what you can take advantage of on a given night. Is it a relief for them to not have two mobile 7-footers? Sure. But I don’t think Oklahoma’s out of the norm. The day of the big, plodding center, there’s not a lot of them out there. I would love to coach a kid like (Ryan) Spangler. He’s just fun to watch. He leaves it on the court. May not come in a huge package you see from, say, a Syracuse. We’ll take whatever comes our way. You’re in the Summit League, you’re in the dance, you know you’re going to have some challenges.”
On North Dakota State in general: “It’s a pretty unique situation, really loyal and patient fan base. You know what, I don’t get the heat that a lot of Division I coaches get. But at the same time, they rally around us when things go great. It’s a unique place to be. We’ve got a lot to sell.”