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Eric Peterson, Published December 04 2012

Engen off to good start at NDSCS

Wahpeton, N.D. - The two years Stu Engen spent away from being a college basketball coach had some perks – like getting the chance for more family time.

“You’re able to get to all your kids’ events, maybe catch your breath a little bit,” said Engen, who is married with four kids.

The unknown was the part that was tough for Engen. His contract wasn’t renewed in 2010 after eight seasons as head men’s coach at Minnesota State Moorhead.

“You would like to say you had faith that something else would work out, but you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,” Engen said.

Engen is back on the bench this winter, the head men’s coach at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton. He also has the added duties of being the school’s athletic director.

Engen has had success on the court, leading the Wildcats to a 9-2 record heading into tonight’s home game against Ridgewater Community College. NDSCS President John Richman likes the way Engen has performed through six months.

“He’s had to deal with some significant matters,” Richman said.

During the summer, a NDSCS player was fatally shot in Louisiana as Engen was taking over the basketball team.

During the fall, a now former NDSCS football player said he was kicked off the team because he was gay, a claim the school disputed. The story became national news.

Engen said balancing his administrative duties with coaching has been difficult at times, but he’s liked the challenge. Engen is in the midst of hiring a head softball coach this week.

“There were times in the fall that I missed workouts because of some of the administrative duties,” Engen said. “At the same time, it’s nice to put your own touch on a (athletic) program.”

Engen has provided a winning touch early in his basketball tenure with the Wildcats, who lost nearly 98 percent of their scoring from last season.

Sophomore center Eric O’Neil is the only player who returns. O’Neil is averaging 8.1 points per game this season off the bench.

The Wildcats have a combination of transfers and freshman making up their starting lineup.

Sophomore guard Bretson McNeal, who is a transfer from the University of Sioux Falls, leads the team with 18.4 points per game.

Sophomore guard Nik Savageau, a former Fargo North standout who also started his college career at Sioux Falls, is averaging 8.1 points per game and leads the team with 3.4 assists.

Sophomore forward Xavier Blackburn, a transfer from Baton Rouge (La.) Community College, is averaging 11 points per game. Guard Tim Gill and center Stephan Lambert, both freshmen, also start.

“I think we have a unique group of guys for a two-year college program. I think our chemistry is really good,” Engen said. “You would think just the opposite. You have two-year guys trying to get into four-year schools. They’re all trying to highlight themselves, and that has not been the case.”

Engen likes the passion he’s seen from NDSCS fans.

During the fall, he said there were more than 300 people at the hall of fame banquet.

“There is a nice little following down here,” Engen said. “It is unique.”

Richman thinks Engen is already starting to put a stamp on the athletic department.

“In a very short period of time, he has become a valued part of our college,” Richman said. “He has learned about the culture here and he has learned what the community wants and expects.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.