It was a long road, but Bison center Eliason finally contributing on the court
FARGO—The future is looking more and more like medical school for North Dakota State junior center Spencer Eliason, who spent part of this week interviewing for a post-graduate option. If getting through a medical curriculum requires grit, patience and perseverance, then Eliason can already put that on his resume.
His first two to three years with the Bison basketball team was nothing but a challenge.
"There were quite a few low points," Eliason said.
Low points like trying to fight it out underneath the basket with the likes of former centers Chris Kading and Dexter Werner. Keep in mind Eliason came to NDSU a 6-foot-9 high school star from Chadron, Neb., who seemingly had things easy with basketball.
Coming in, he said, he figured he could pretty much show up and still be dominant. The competition, both in practice and in games, said otherwise.
"You realize you're not the top cat anymore," Eliason said. "It's a long process and that's just what you have to go through. The program doesn't owe you anything. Even though you do everything right, you show up every day, you're not owed anything. You have to prove it every day and for me it took a little longer than some others, which is fine. It was worth it."
He redshirted, as expected, in 2014-15. He played in just 11 games the following season, averaging all of 4.1 minutes in a 40-minute game. With Kading gone, last season was expected to be better, but statistically it was more of the same.
He played in 19 of 30 games, averaging 1.5 points, 1.3 rebounds and 6.5 minutes.
"Especially in society these days, it's easy to run when things are not going your way," said head coach Dave Richman. "I give him so much credit for sticking it out, battling adversity, taking care of things off the court and still keeping your mind in a good frame. This year, when the opportunity came, he responded."
A big improvement in the weight room helped. Eliason is up to 240 pounds and Richman calls him the strongest player on the team.
He was inserted into the starting lineup five games into this year and hasn't left. His numbers have been consistent, ranging from three to five field goals a game and, probably more important on a team with a couple of proven scorers, doing the job on defense.
"We talk and preach about it all the time, we have to be a tough-minded defensive team and Spencer brings that to the table," Richman said.
NDSU will need it on the table with the University of Denver coming to Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex on Thursday night, Jan. 11, and Oral Roberts at the SHAC on Saturday afternoon. It's early—the Bison are 1-1 in the Summit League—but protecting your home court in a conference with just eight teams is paramount.
"We need to focus on what we do defensively," Eliason said. "If we focus on ourselves, we'll be fine and we'll be in all of those games."
Denver at NDSU
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex
TV: Midco, ESPN3