Jeff Kolpack, Published February 25 2011
Kolpack: Path together comes full circle for 1971 squadThe place was officially called “The New Fieldhouse” and it was a beauty when it opened in 1970. The walls were white, the tartan surface was state-of-the-art and the locker room complex was considered modern.
The men’s basketball team that was the main tenant was also state-of-the-art. North Dakota State had the inside game with John Wojtak, Brad Klabo and Mike Kuppich and the brotherly backcourt of Tom Driscoll and Pat Driscoll. The bench was deep, and good, with Scott Howe, Tom Assel, Tom Erdmann, Mark Refling, Bob Vogel and Phil Dranger.
Wojtak still holds the school career record for rebounding average at 10.8 per game. Most of the players and their coach, Bud Belk, are having a
40-year reunion of sorts tonight at the Bison and South Dakota State game, at what is now the Bison Sports Arena.
The BSA, of course, is scheduled for urban renewal whenever every penny is raised. (If they wait much longer, there may be no choice but to condemn some parts of the building). But in the early ’70s, and it’s laughable to think about it in this way today, it was a major recruiting tool.
“That was one of the main reasons I went there,” said Fargo’s Tom Erdmann. “I remember playing in the very first game there. That was a big thrill.”
The biggest thrill was a North Central Conference championship in 1971. They had it all: a league ring, a deep team, a brand spankin’ new facility and a team that has some gusto.
“They were fighters to the end,” Belk said. “They were just great competitors.”
They even landed Villanova at home, a Wildcats team that eventually lost in the NCAA championship to UCLA. It was the only time a future NBA second-round draft pick, Villanova’s Howard Porter, played in the BSA. In today’s dollar, that would be like NDSU hosting Butler, last year’s NCAA runner-up.
The reunion got some legs in the last few weeks. They’ll remember the good times – and the 6 a.m. practices. When the team wasn’t playing up to capacity, the players were up well before the sun.
“They say they love me now,” Belk said. “They didn’t love me at 6 a.m. back then, especially if they went out the night before. We did that a few times.”
At least the BSA looked better at 6 a.m. in 1970-71 than it will tonight.
“It was beautiful,” Belk said. “It was supposed to seat 11,500. I think I still have the blueprints.”
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