DICKINSON — After losing five seniors to graduation last year, Dickinson State University knew they would rely heavily on younger players to compete in the long regular season at the North Star Athletic Association conference. As recently as preseason, the Blue Hawks (1-5) have been slowly fine-tuning their performances and closing gaps against some of their toughest rivals in years, including three national ranked teams.

With no seniors on the roster and major injuries limiting returning players, DSU, under the stewardship of head coach Derek Selvig, has in its third season focused on getting its young athletes up to speed quickly.

“The feeling of playing together is becoming one of our strengths and our team chemistry has gone through the roof,” said Selvig. “We brought back a couple of guys from last year’s team but now we’ve got all the news, guys and all the really young guys that are interested in moving the ball, sharing the ball and it’s actually making it quite difficult for us to close guard.”

Returning power forward Josiah Haaland will be limited in playing time as he recovers from ankle and knee injuries, but sophomores Gus Wright (6’7) and Tyce Dahlberg (6’4) will make good substitutes in Haaland’s absence be. Wright averaged 16 rebounds and eight blocks per game, while Dahlberg had 32 rebounds and a 72.7 free throw percentage early in the preseason.

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Gus Wright conceded the rebound.

Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

“Josiah’s a little knocked out… he just plays a few minutes here and there. I don’t think he’s played more than 15 this season,” Selvig said. “We’re really looking forward to getting him 100% healthy and running.”

The bad habits will resolve themselves, and the young players quickly adapt to college-level basketball. At the Montana Western Classic, they played the University of Montana Westerns to a one-point game and the following day they played Montana Technological University’s 23rd NAIA team to an eight-point game.

A big confidence boost comes from the camaraderie of the team and the diversity of the scorers.

“We’re seeing both ends of the floor improving and with a team like ours we’re going to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year and that’s what you want as a coach,” Selvig said. “Right now we’re in these growing pains where we’re going up and down, but I’m excited for when we put it all together.”

Returning guards who will help lead the team on offense will be John Evans, Trey Hladky and Jaiden Wright.

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John Evans on the right shoots a three.

Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

Evans averages nearly 10 points per game, shooting 50% from the three-point line and 90% from the charity streak. Hladky contributes just over eight points per game and has dropped nine buckets behind the arch.

Wright hasn’t started a game but is proving to be a reliable sixth man, averaging eight points in a game and providing 13 assists so far.

“I like that it can be anyone at any time. John Evans had a 20-point game in Montana last weekend and Trey was the top scorer the next day,” Selvig said. “I like it. Firstly, it’s hard to prepare for and secondly, everyone feels that their role is important. That’s the kind of culture we’re trying to create. We’re going to move the ball on offense, everyone will touch him. It could be anyone’s possession and anyone’s game.”

According to Selvig, a race for the conference title is not out of the question – based on the team’s resilience against its touted opponents. The Dickinson community will have a chance to see just how rough the Blue Hawks squad can be during their hosted Sam Milanovic Classic. The two-day event will be held at DSU’s Scott High School and will begin at 7 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving

“I think it’s realistic that we could fight for a championship in our conference this year. We don’t have national ranked teams in our conference, and if you look at our preseason, we played several ranked teams and fielded a few NCAA Division II teams,” Selvig said. “I think everyone is doing a great job, from the coaching staff to our players. They’re a really fun group and if people want to come out and see a team that’s playing really hard, I think this is the group to watch.

DSU’s Sam Milanovic Classic schedule: (held at Scott Gymnasium of DSU)

11/25 – 7:00 p.m. – University of Montana – Western
11/26 – 7:00 p.m. – Rocky Mountain College

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