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Sioux sport blue-collar attitude

The UND men's basketball team finished last season with a flurry, advancing to the championship game of the North Central Conference postseason tournament.

The UND men's basketball team finished last season with a flurry, advancing to the championship game of the North Central Conference postseason tournament.

The Sioux arrived at that destination behind some gritty play.

As a first-year Division I program with new -- and more difficult -- challenges ahead, UND coach Brian Jones wants his players to remember what made the end of last season special and what it will take to succeed at the next level.

That's why Sioux players and coaches come to the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center these days wearing blue work shirts for all workouts and weight-room sessions.

"When we came into our fall workouts, we wanted to remind ourselves what made our run successful last year," Jones said. "It was a blue-collar mentality, taking the fight to the opponent."


UND's first practice is scheduled for next Friday. The Sioux then have less than a month to prepare for their Division I opener at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Once the season begins, the Sioux will play Division I teams in 11 states, ranging from Washington to Illinois.

As a program in transition to Division I, scheduling games has been difficult for UND -- especially since the Sioux are considered a noncounter this season. Established Division I programs cannot improve their all-important RPI rankings by playing a noncounter.

"This year and next year will be our hardest years," Jones said. "If we're not mentally tough and don't do the little things and bring a blue-collar mentality every day, it'll be a struggle for us."

UND's marquee games will be at Texas A&M and at Wichita State. Also, the Sioux play at Montana, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Northern Colorado and Northern Iowa, coached by former Sioux player and assistant coach Ben Jacobson.

Since UND is a transitional program, it could be viewed by opponents as an expected win.

"We're the 'it' team for everybody," Jones said. "We'll be the 'it' opponent for Division I teams that need to get healthy (and a win), and we'll be the 'it' team for non-Division I teams that think they can come in and beat up a transitional team.

"We can't let that happen. We have a bull's-eye on our back this year and next."


With that in mind, one of UND's goals this season will to defeat an established Division I program.

The Sioux will open its first Division I season with four seniors.

Daniel Harkins, a senior guard from Portage, Wis., said the blue-collar approach is appropriate for what is ahead.

"The coaches wanted to drill home that we want a blue-collar work ethic," Harkins said. "Some days, you may not want to get down and dirty. Practices can get tough and long because we've been working out since last spring.

"The blue-collar (approach) is a reminder that we only have 29 games and that every practice counts."

Harkins arrived when UND was an entrenched Division II program.

He'll leave as a player on a Division I team.

One of his goals as a senior, he said, is to help prepare the seven incoming freshmen for the future.


"We take a lot of pride in starting these guys on the right foot," Harkins said. "We owe it to them."

As part of the blue-collar theme, Jones said the move to Division I won't be sugar coated.

"We're not about excuses," Jones said.

Nelson reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1268; (800) 477-6572, ext. 268; or send e-mail to wnelson@gfherald.com .

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