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Rick Weegman / Forum Communications Co., Published January 28 2011

Men's basketball: Lindberg’s toughness impresses Phillips

SUPERIOR, Wis. – Joel Lindberg doesn’t play football, but when North Dakota State men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips first saw the Superior point guard he was reminded of a gridiron warrior.

So when Phillips heard that Lindberg was knocked out of a recent game with a concussion and a split lip yet returned the next game to score 37 points, he wasn’t surprised.

“The thing I love the most about him is his toughness – that’s one tough kid,” Phillips said. “He got a concussion a couple games ago and banged his front teeth in – bent his front tooth backward – but he’s as tough as nails. You combine that with a pretty darn good package basketball-wise and that’s the right formula.”

Lindberg committed to the school last August after making one visit to the Fargo campus. Phillips said he was the team’s top point guard recruit.

“I was elated when we got him and can’t wait to get to work with him,” he said.

First, Lindberg will try to lead Superior (10-5) deep into the Wisconsin playoffs. He’s surrounded by a lot of talent, though that depth will be tested after the Spartans lost hot-shooting guard Rob Kraft for a couple of weeks to a stress fracture. That happened Saturday against Milwaukee Riverside, the same game in which Lindberg was concussed by an elbow to his jaw while playing defense. His parents drove him to a hospital, where he had two stitches placed in his lip.

“You don’t really know what’s going on, you’re just dazed,” Lindberg said of his first concussion.

He was fine by Tuesday, as evidenced by his

37-point outing in an 82-70 win over Rice Lake.

“Being knocked out of (the Riverside) game and coming back to show his mental toughness in a big game against Rice Lake, that shows what type of kid he is,” Superior coach Dave Kontny said.

Lindberg averages 15.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.8 steals per game, though his outside shooting has inexplicably suffered. He’s just 7-for-32 (22 percent) from 3-point range after making an area-leading 61 percent a year ago.

“I haven’t been shooting the ball as well as I wanted to lately, but when you have other scorers on the team you try to get the hot shooter the ball,” he said.

His current and future coaches aren’t concerned by any perceived shooting slump. As the main distributor, Lindberg’s been the primary reason why several different Spartans – from Kraft to Nathanial Knutson to Josh Kimmes – have led the team in scoring.

“Joel’s smart enough to know that when other people on our team can hurt you, he’s going to find them,” Kontny said. “That shows his unselfishness and is what makes him a good player.”

Besides, Phillips says, if the outside shots aren’t falling, Lindberg is excellent at penetrating the lane and creating plays.

“He’s got the leadership qualities necessary in a point guard to make a difference in a program,” Phillips said, “and you combine that with his ability to get into the paint and finish around the rim and run screen-and-roll plays, and I have no doubt that he’ll be terrific for us.

“He doesn’t need to impress anybody; he’s already impressed me.”

Weegman writes for the Duluth News Tribune