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UND MEN'S BASKETBALL: Abundant athleticism

Specific plays aren't usually drawn up for UND's Emmanuel Little, a 6-foot-6 junior who leads the Sioux in scoring and rebounding. The Sioux, however, don't have to worry too much about specifics when Little is on the court. His athleticism compe...

Specific plays aren't usually drawn up for UND's Emmanuel Little, a 6-foot-6 junior who leads the Sioux in scoring and rebounding.

The Sioux, however, don't have to worry too much about specifics when Little is on the court. His athleticism compensates for the lack of Xs and Os.

And that's OK with Sioux coach Brian Jones.

"If you were a player on the floor, an official or a fan in the stands, you saw his effort both nights," Jones said of Little's play last week. "He let everything come to him. He didn't force anything. And when he plays at that level, the entire team seems to pick it up."

Little's play during UND's games against St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato last week earned him NCC player of the week. Little received the honor despite UND losing both games, something that rarely happens in the conference.

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His stat line, however, was hard for the league office to ignore. Against the two best teams in the NCC, Little averaged 23.5 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and made 18 of 21 shots from the field.

Not bad for a player who showed up at UND a few days before fall semester.

Fortunate find

Jones became UND's coach in late May, which didn't give himself or his assistants a lot of time to find players. Little, however, was available, and Jones liked what he saw.

"I felt he had a chance because of his athleticism," Jones said. "This league hasn't traditionally been an athletic league."

No, it's been more of a physical league dotted with solid perimeter shooters. Of course, there have been occasional athletic players like Little.

Little isn't the lone athletic UND player. The Sioux are more athletic this season than they've been since Jerome Beasley and Co. racked up dunks and points in Hyslop Sports Center a few years ago.

Little came in with lightning-quick point guard Ervin Youmans, a transfer from Eastern Arizona College who shares the team scoring lead with Little. Both average 14.8 points.

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Harry Boyce, a transfer from Williston State College, is another athletic player, one whose defensive work has drawn attention from opposing coaches.

And Mark Kruse, a transfer from Division I Illinois State, is a 6-7 forward who can shoot the 3-pointer and get to the basket.

"It's different than what this league has had in awhile," Jones said of UND's athletic makeup. "Now, we have to corral that athleticism to get it done on both ends of the court."

Just a bit short

UND gave up 92 points against St. Cloud and Mankato last week. The Sioux scored 90 and 91 points, largely because of their athleticism around the basket.

Little didn't know what to expect when he came to UND, but he was impressed with the quality of play during his first NCC weekend.

"They said the NCC was tough," Little said. "It's a challenge. St. Cloud and Mankato were nice teams. But I've played in other leagues where guys have gone Division I."

Little also said he approached his first NCC games in a relaxed state of mind.

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"I played well," he said. "I was relaxed. I took good shots. I felt comfortable coming in."

Like any competitive league, the difference between the Sioux, St. Cloud and Mankato was a handful of possessions.

"It's all about the last four minutes," Little said.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^Here comes the zone

UND's athleticism will get a test this week against South Dakota, a patient team that plays a matchup zone defense. It's a defense that has given NCC opponents fits over the years. The Coyotes (1-0 NCC, 12-4 overall) also have good 3-point shooters.

"They shoot the 3-pointer well and they can hammer it inside," Jones said. "You have to pick your poison.

"And we have to attack their zone. We can't be passive. We can't settle for jump shots because that hasn't been our strength."

Little already knows one thing about the NCC. The league season is short. With a 12-game schedule, there is little room for error.

"We have 10 games left and we want to get into the top four," Little said.

Reach Nelson at 780-1268, (800) 477-6572 ext. 268 or wnelson@gfherald.com .

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