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Kevin Schnepf, Published March 16 2009

Dreaming large: NDSU’s 6-foot-10 center is practicing what he preaches and cherishing playing on the big stage

Lucas Moormann, who wants to be a coach after he graduates from North Dakota State this spring, delivered a pre-game speech Friday at the North Dakota Class A boys basketball tournament.

“Go out there and cherish the moment,” Moormann told the players from Dickinson High School huddled in a Fargodome locker room prior to their semifinal game with Mandan.

It was just six years ago on the same Fargodome court where Moormann helped Dickinson to its first state title. As a spectator Friday night, Moormann was surrounded by the past, present and future.

Sitting to his left was Troy Ott, one of his teammates from the 2003 state championship team. Sitting between Ott and Moormann was Dean Winczewski, his high school coach who now coaches at Minot.

“It’s kind of weird coming back here,” Moormann said. “It seems to me the kids are so much smaller.”

Understandable, considering Moormann’s

6-foot-10 frame was squished into one of the Fargodome seats. Not too far away were Saul Phillips and Dave Richman, the head coach and assistant for the North Dakota State men’s basketball team Moormann now plays for. That team will be playing in the NCAA tournament this week.

“It still feels like a dream,” Moormann said, referring to last Tuesday’s Summit League tournament championship win that vaulted the Bison into the “Big Dance.”

Moormann will be dancing again July 25, his wedding date. Sitting to his right was fiancé Kelly Vivant, who came to NDSU from Lakeville, Minn., to play softball.

A state championship, an NCAA tournament berth and a wedding – all in six years.

Staying near home

The ride began in Dickinson, where Moormann grew up in a house a few blocks from the high school – where Pam has been teaching family and consumer science for the last 25 years.

Her husband, Phil, has been teaching high school and junior high math for the last 30 years. At 6-foot-4, Phil once scored 60 points in a high school basketball game playing for Stanton, N.D.

Together, Phil and Pam raised Lucas and Betsy, now a 21-year-old who once helped Dickinson High School to a state volleyball title.

It is a close-knit family – so close Moormann couldn’t bring himself to call his mom “Mrs. Moormann” during one of her classes. “It felt weird calling her ‘mom’ in class, but that’s what I did,” Moormann said.

So close that Moormann plans to become a math teacher like his dad, having fulfilled his student-teaching requirements last fall at Fargo North High School.

So close that Moormann chose to attend NDSU so his parents could watch him play more.

“I remember we were returning home from a summer camp at Northern Iowa, who was interested in Luke,” Pam recalled of the 600-mile drive to the Cedar Falls, Iowa, school. “The trip was long. Then Luke asked us, ‘Would you be able to come to all my games if I went to school there?’

“We looked at each other and told him probably not. It was just too far to drive. I think that’s when he seriously started thinking about North Dakota State, knowing we could come to most of the games and knowing he could represent his home state.”

That included turning down a walk-on offer from UCLA – a traditional powerhouse in college basketball. Moormann remembers his first conversation with a UCLA assistant coach as if it were yesterday.

Moormann was working as an office aid at Dickinson High School, answering the phone.

“How can I help you?” Moormann answered a call from a UCLA coach who wanted to talk to coach Winczewski about one of his players. Winczewski wasn’t available. Moormann asked him what player he was interested in.

“Lucas Moormann,” the coach answered.

“Well, you’re speaking to him,” answered Moormann, who – after sending UCLA a videotape on his 3-point shooting ability –figured the school in California was too much of a pipe dream.

Now, he’s living a dream in his home state.

‘Fearless enforcer’

His freshman year at NDSU, Moormann roomed with football player Alex Belquist of New Rockford, N.D. The two were teammates on the Northern Stars AAU basketball team that played in tournaments in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Portland.

“That was the first time I flew in an airplane,” Moormann said.

Moormann’s friendship with Belquist developed friendships with Bison football players Jerimiah Wurzbacher of Fargo South and Tyler Jangula of Williston.

“We hated each other in high school,” Moormann said of playing against them in high school football and basketball.

Moormann was a wide receiver who, whenever Dickinson got inside the 20-yard line, would often out-jump his defenders in the end zone for lob passes. But basketball was always the focus, a sport that allowed him to hook up with Ben Woodside, Brett Winkelman and Mike Nelson.

Together, they sat out their freshman year as redshirts – unable to play in games. Instead, they provided the Bison varsity competitive games in practice and got stronger in the weight room.

It paid off.

Moormann averaged 6.6 points and 5.6 rebounds as a redshirt freshman – a season that included NDSU’s incredible upset over nationally ranked Wisconsin. He was limited to 15 games his sophomore year, having to sit out the last half of the season with a knee injury.

“We all knew if anybody can handle that, it was Luke,” said Phillips.

Moormann bounced back faster than most expected and averaged nearly five points and five rebounds last year, wearing a brace to protect his knee. This season, without a brace, Moormann’s numbers remain modest – 4.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

“Luke’s special trait is his length and his ability to both give out and accept punishment on both ends of the floor,” Phillips said of Moormann, who is NDSU’s No. 5 all-time leading shot blocker with, one behind Lance Berwald. “He’s fearless. He’s our enforcer. He has easily taken more charges than anybody on the team. When we take a charge, 9 times out of 10, it’s Luke Moormann who is on the bottom of the pile. The kid is resilient.”

Winczewski said Moormann was driven to get where he is at today.

“We had the same personalities, very competitive,” Winczewski said, sitting one seat from Moormann in the Fargodome. “There were times we butted heads but we were always looking in the same direction.”

Winczewski was one of the first to text message Moormann congratulations after NDSU’s Summit League championship win last Tuesday. The mob celebration on the Sioux Falls Arena floor conjured up memories of Dickinson’s 2003 state championship celebration on the Fargodome floor.

The Moormanns consider themselves lucky. Woodside, Winkelman and Nelson never got to experience a state high school championship.

“For the community of Dickinson, that was just huge,” Pam Moormann said. “But this is bigger. Rushing the floor, holding up the banner … it was a repeat. We feel so blessed. It has been quite a ride.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com