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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ex-Bison coach has Lawrence ties

Miles thrilled with North Dakota State’s NCAA Tournament invite

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Before the 2008-09 season, second-year Colorado State University head basketball coach Tim Miles was plenty familiar with Lawrence, but knew little about the town that is home to one of college basketball’s most storied programs.

Fast-forward a few months and you’ll discover Miles as a man who now has three ties to the home of the Jayhawks.

The first connection came to a happy ending Monday night, as Miles received an oral commitment from Lawrence High senior Dorian Green. Miles and his staff had been recruiting Green for most of his senior season and landing the Sunflower League Player of the Year was just a small step in what Miles hopes will be a successful run at rebuilding the basketball culture at CSU.

The second connection also has to do with LHS but was born years ago in small-town South Dakota, where Miles and Lawrence High coach Chris Davis grew up less than 150 miles apart, with Davis in Platte, S.D., and Miles in Doland, S.D.

Although the two coaches did not know each other then, they knew of each other and had a handful of mutual friends.

“There’s not that many people (in South Dakota),” Davis said. “You tend to have connections with everyone.”

Their distant connection continued throughout their coaching careers, as Davis served as a graduate assistant at the University of South Dakota and competed in the same conference as Miles, who spent six seasons as the head coach at North Dakota State University.

Sound familiar?

It should. The Bison are the first-round opponent for Kansas University in this year’s NCAA Tournament, therein completing the trifecta of Kansas connections.

For Miles, whose Rams wrapped up their season with a loss in the Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas last week, witnessing the Bison’s reaction to qualifying for the first NCAA Tournament in school history is not something he will soon forget.

Last Sunday, as CBS unveiled the field for this year’s tournament, the players, coaches and fans at NDSU exploded in unison as the Bison saw their name pop up on the television screen.

It didn’t matter that the Div. II-turned-Div. I school making its first trip to the Big Dance in its first year of eligibility had drawn the defending national champion Jayhawks as a first-round opponent. All that mattered was that they were in, a vision Miles had in mind half a dozen years ago when he recruited several players on this year’s NDSU team.

“It’s unique for me because I spent a few years recruiting that group and then I coached them for a few years and now I get to be a fan for their last two years,” Miles said. “When you’re a fan, you have a whole different perspective. I’m just proud of those guys and I’m a Bison superfan out here. I watched the Selection Show until I saw the Midwest bracket with KU and NDSU and then I went to the computer and booked a trip.”

Miles spent six seasons (2001-07) in Fargo, N.D., leaving for CSU after compiling a 99-71 record at NDSU. Some of his best coaching memories came during his time up north, including the idea of red-shirting this year’s senior class so that those young men would have a chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament as seniors, once the NCAA’s restriction regarding Div. II teams jumping up to Div. I expired.

“The idea of red-shirting started out of necessity, to be honest,” Miles said. “In fact, I think we red-shirted 11 of our first 12 recruits there. It wasn’t fun, but I’m just so happy that it has paid off for those guys. You can’t make it up. It has to happen this way. The stars just kind of align that way. My wife said this whole story is a book, it’s a movie.”

Throughout the years, the Bison have proven themselves to be formidable foes. In 2006, Miles led the youngest team in the nation into Wisconsin and walked away with a victory against the 12th-ranked Badgers. The following year, Miles and NDSU struck again, this time knocking off No. 8 Marquette, which featured many Golden Eagles players who are seniors on this year’s team, a No. 6 seed in the West regional.

And now, under second-year coach Saul Phillips, the Bison have continued their run, coming from 14 points down in the championship game of the Summit League Tournament to win on a jump shot from one of those seniors.

“Think about that,” Miles said. “Five years of work and dedication came down to one season, one tournament, one game and one shot. To come through like that is amazing.”

Miles’ main focus these days is on rebuilding the Rams. He said he hopes to someday return to Lawrence for a game.

“Obviously that would be up to (KU) coach (Bill) Self and (KU senior associate AD) Larry Keating, but it’s something we’re certainly open to,” Miles said. “I figure maybe my first time in Allen Fieldhouse will be as a coach instead of a spectator.”

For the next 72 hours, however, Miles is happy to be a spectator, watching one program he helped build take on another he’s become more familiar with in recent months.

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