Ten-year-old's cancer battle brings Richman's tough season into perspective
FARGO—Dave Richman traded his suit coat for a T-shirt at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, which also served as a reminder that his toughest stretch as the head North Dakota State men's basketball coach is not the hardest thing in life.
His 10-year-old neighbor is going through cancer treatments.
The slogan "Landon's Light" was front and center on Richman's shirt, a show of support for Landon Solberg, a fourth grader at Freedom Elementary in West Fargo.
"He's someone to me specifically and to our guys in the program that means a lot to us," Richman said. "Landon certainly has a battle going on and we're here to bring awareness to that and to help him and his family. If we can have a little bit of an impact for Landon, that's great. It's nowhere near the impact he's had for us in the last couple of months so we're here standing for him."
Landon has been a visitor to the Bison locker room and an acquaintance of the Bison players. It's been a season that on the scoreboard has been the most trying time in Richman's four-year tenure.
His record of 75-48 includes a Summit League title in 2014-15 and a near-miss at upsetting Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Bison won 20 games the following year and almost reached that mark with 19 victories last season. Richman, including his stint as an assistant, has been a part of six NDSU 20-win seasons.
Yet, they were only 13-14 after Tuesday night's non-conference 87-53 win over Mayville State—a game in which Jared Samuelson set an NDSU single-game record with nine 3-point field goals and ended up with a career-high 32 points. The old record was eight 3-pointers set by Lawrence Alexander in 2015.
The win snapped a four-game losing streak. But the Bison remain 4-7 in the Summit heading into Saturday's home league finale against Fort Wayne.
Richman admitted to being frustrated and disappointed.
"Yeah, I think those are two words that are right there," he said. "Frustrated as a coach and you're ... just trying to give these guys that have given so much to be in a better position. And when you feel like you're so close, you look yourself in the mirror first and foremost and wonder what I could have done better."
The Bison are coming off two Summit road losses that were decided in the closing seconds—66-63 at Denver and 67-66 in overtime to Oral Roberts.
Still, athletic director Matt Larsen said he's still seeing the NDSU players working hard and continuing to be prepared for every game.
"For us to think every year was going to be a 25-win year and you're going to the tournament every year, that's unrealistic," Larsen said.
The four straight defeats and six in eight games is the longest such streak in Richman's career. It eclipses last year's three losses in four games that included No. 7-ranked Xavier and Missouri State.
Otherwise he has not seen more than two straight defeats.
"This is certainly foreign territory," Richman said. "I think at the very end of the day, crazy as it sounds, this is great for me. This is great for our program. That may not be what anybody wants to hear because it does come down to wins and losses but adversity really builds character and reveals character. What are you going to do now when times are rough. Are you going to run from it? You going to blame somebody else? Or are you continually doing the things that have gotten us to a historic point in Bison basketball in the last five years."
Richman said he has reached out to his mentors this season, former Bison coaches like Tim Miles at Nebraska, Saul Phillips at Ohio University and Ben Jacobson at Northern Iowa. Their explanation in general: that's college basketball.
Richman indicated the team had a productive meeting this week. He said he can still look seniors A.J. Jacobson, Paul Miller and Spencer Eliason in the eye and get the feeling they can still make some madness in March.
And then there's the perspective angle.
Around 40 people close to Landon were at the Bison-Comets game. A big sign in the Bison basketball video room that says "toughen together" serves as a reminder to his battle.
"What Landon is going through puts losing into perspective real quick," Richman said.
"Hopefully I don't break down here. Landon Solberg literally is a wedge shot from my house. This is a 10-year-old kid that doesn't deserve any of this. You show our guys you have to make some sacrifices, think about what Landon is going through? You want to talk about tough? Landon Solberg is tough."
MSU (14-10): LIndgren 4-6 2-4 10, Green 1-2 0-0 2, DeLaughter 0-2 0-0 0, Alhag 4-5 0-0 11, Droog 2-5 1-3 5, Slaba 0-0 0-0 0, Epps 4-9 0-0 10, Bueckers 1-5 0-3 2, Munoz 2-5 0-0 5, Eaton 1-4 0-0 2, Turnbull 0-6 0-0 0, Pfau 1-2 0-0 3, Staebler 0-2 0-0 0, Cooper 1-3 1-2 3, Wiesmann 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-56 (FG), 2-8 (FT).
NDSU (13-14): Samuelson 10-15 3-3 32, Jacobson 5-5 1-1 12, Hunter 4-7 3-5 11, Ward 2-10 0-0 5, Eliason 5-5 0-0 10, Dulm 0-2 0-0 0, Quayle 2-6 0-0 4, Geu 3-6 2-2 8, Kreuser 1-7 2-2 5. Totals: 32-63 (FG), 11-13 (FT).
Halftime: NDSU 39, MSU 26. 3-point goals: MSU 9-24 (Lindgren 2-4, Alhag 3-4, Epps 2-5, Munoz 1-2, Pfau 1-1), NDSU 12-27 (Samuelson 9-13, Jacobson 1-1, Ward 1-6, Kreuser 1-4). Total fouls: MSU 14, NDSU 14. Rebounds: MSU 29 (DeLaughter 4), NDSU 39 (Ward 6, Geu 5, Kreuser 5). Assists: MSU 11 (Slaba 2), NDSU 17 (Hunter 4). Turnovers: MSU 13 (Slaba 4), NDSU 11 (Hunter 2, Kreuser 2).