RENO, Nev. -- Brian Jones took his UND men’s basketball team to Europe in August of 2015 to play four exhibition games.

The experience was a good one, with UND winning all four games.

That trip helped bond a young team, one that’s largely still together and playing for the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament this week at the Reno Events Center.

From that trip in 2015 to this week in Reno, Jones has led UND to the program’s most success since it became a Division I program in 2008 -- including this season’s Big Sky regular-season title.

Jones was named the Big Sky coach of the year Wednesday, an award he says started with that trip to Europe.

“That foreign trip was really important,” said Jones. “We had just come off an eight-win season. We took that trip and that’s where the relationships on this team really bonded. That carried over into last season and then it carried over to this season. It’s been a great journey for this team.”

Jones was appreciative for the award but deflected credit to others.

“It’s very humbling,” said Jones of the award. “I’m grateful for my staff and team. This is a product of what they’ve done. It’s more about what we do every day, working and trying to get better.”

UND finished 14-4 in the league this season and 19-9 overall as the top-seeded Hawks prepare for No. 8 seed Portland State in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.

UND now has won four coach of the year awards in the Big Sky -- Travis Brewster, women’s basketball; Bubba Schweigert, football; and Mark Pryor, volleyball.

Now in his 11th season as the UND coach, Jones holds a 52-42 record in league games since the Hawks became a Big Sky member in 2012.

Jones also was recognized for his humanitarian work as the 2016 Samaritan’s Feet Coach of the Year. A Rock Island, Ill., native, Jones came to UND from the University of Iowa and guided the Hawks through the transition from NCAA Division II to a Division I.

“What you’re seeing now is a team doing things the right way,” said Jones.

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