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COLUMN: There's good reason to be giddy

I was watching the Minnesota Timberwolves with disappointment again the other night and it got me thinking of what could actually be described as exciting basketball.

I was watching the Minnesota Timberwolves with disappointment again the other night and it got me thinking of what could actually be described as exciting basketball.

I was recalling two of the best games I had ever seen - the 2007 Class 1A Minnesota state championship between Cass Lake-Bena and Ellsworth and the 2007 NCAA Division II national championship game between Winona State and Barton.

That got me thinking some more and before I knew it I was rattling off the starting lineups and bench players for CLB and WSU with ease.

Then it hit me. I couldn't name the same number of players from Bemidji State's team that made the NCAA national tournament in March of 2004.

That has to be saying something, right? Sure the games involving CLB and WSU happened just a few short months ago and BSU's tournament berth was three years ago. But I didn't cover CLB's every game and certainly didn't care to break down every one of WSU's games other than the one or possibly two games they played in Bemidji each season.

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While I eventually sputtered out BSU's 2004 roster it didn't flow off my tongue with as much ease as the other two.

Why? I was more familiar with CLB's and WSU's athletes.

I have typed endless box scores and/or recaps from the Panthers' games and read weekly NSIC recaps and box scores. But I did more for BSU during the 2003-04 season.

Then why did I remember more players for CLB and WSU than I did for the Beavers? My only conclusion was that I was exposed to CLB's and WSU's roster for two and in some cases three more years.

That conclusion was backed up by who it was that first popped into my head from BSU's 2003-04 season: Charles "Buster" Hanks. Why? He was a Beaver for three seasons. The others two seasons at the most.

It is first-year BSU head coach Matt Bowen's goal for every BSU fan to eventually be able to rattle off former rosters without so much as a stutter.

So far, he's backing up what he said he would do last June when he was one of two finalists for the head coaching position.

As expected Bowen signed four players to National Letters of Intent within the last week.

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Cass Lake-Bena's Brady Fairbanks, Andover's Jimmy Johnson, St. Bernard's Patrick Cassidy and Foley's Tyler Wruck became the newest members of BSU's men's basketball program - the first ever recruiting class for Bowen.

The four Minnesota natives is BSU's highest number of high school recruits from the state since the 1995 recruiting class - excluding the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons of which rosters are unknown.

Not only has Bowen's first class raising eyebrows locally but has also got the attention around the state.

I chatted with managing editor of minnesotapreps.com, Michael J. Much recently. He said BSU's new coaching staff which includes assistants Jeremy Tiers and Scott Sorenson is taking the state by storm.

"I think this is a better than average class...BSU is picking up some very talented players who have had very good high school careers and lots of AAU experience at the top level," said Much whose site is one of the busiest high school athletic sites in the country with over 12,000 page-views on a typical day. "Most importantly, all these kids are team players and they all will listen and learn; they can be coached. This is often overlooked as an attribute in finding talent; they need to be willing and able to fit into the system that they are moving into."

Fairbanks (6-foot-4, guard) and Cassidy (6-6, forward) were two of the biggest names in Class 1A this season. CLB ended the year 30-2 and earned a runner-up finish at the state tournament. St. Bernard's ended 32-1 with a third place finish at the tournament. Both were named to the 2007 Class 1A boys state basketball all-tournament team posting nearly identical numbers. Fairbanks averaged 14.7 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game over their three games at the tournament while Cassidy hit 15.7 ppg and 8.3 rpg.

"Brady is a great all-around player; I have watched him play AAU ball for the last couple of summers and he has always been a standout playing against all-star teams," said Much who also doubles as basketball editor for the site which is part of the rivals.com network. "Patrick is physically very strong and dominates on the basketball floor. His attitude is also great as he knows how to play as a member of a functioning team."

Johnson was also a state tournament participant in Class 4A, the state's highest class. Andover was ousted in the first round by eventual state runner-up Robbinsdale Armstrong. The 6-foot-10 center netted nine points and pulled down eight rebounds in Andover's only game of the tournament.

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"Jimmy is big and strong and he is a hard worker," said Much who also owns and operates the commercial photography site www.mnphtonet.net . "He loves the game and it shows on the court.

"His size, strength and determination will help any team."

This season the 6-foot-5 Wruck averaged 16.3 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game and 4.7 assists per game.

"The staff at BSU is doing everything right from effective recruiting to building strong player-coach relationships," added Much who said he views approximately six boys basketball games per week over a calendar year. "They should do very well the coming season and even if they don't, their open approach and emphasis on developing and using local talent will pay them dividends in the long run."

The last time BSU had a player from Minnesota on the roster over a span of more than three years was the 2000-01 season when Mac Smith and Chris Lehman both ended their four-year careers. Smith came out of Burnsville, Minn., and climbed his way to third on the all-time career scoring charts at BSU. Lehman was an Esko High School graduate.

Since then the roster has been compiled of mainly transfers. In addition, the roster has seen only 10 players from the state. But that is decieving as only St. Paul's John Szwaja and Cannon Falls' Jeff Lorenson played more than one season.

Perusing through several of the regional men's basketball rosters I found if BSU were to have recruited Minnesota athletes four or so years ago BSU fans would've been able to follow the careers of several outstanding players. And they all would've formed a team that would've likely been very competitive.

Upperclassmen in college programs in or close to Minnesota for the 2006-07 season that BSU would've had the chance to bring in were: guard Kyle Marxhausen, Rosemount (16.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.6 apg for Concordia-St. Paul this season); guard Blake Strouth, Alexandria (16.9 ppg, 6 rpg, 2.5 apg for Minnesota State-Moorhead); guard Matt Fletcher, North Branch (12.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg , 2.1 apg for Southwest Minnesota State); forward Bryan Foss, Plymouth (17.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 apg for Minnesota-Duluth); forward Nick Olson, Eden Prairie (15.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.2 apg for Augustana), forward Luke Linz, Eden Valley-Watkins (19.8 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.3 apg for Concordia-Moorhead); and center Craig Schafer, Anoka (12.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg for St. John's).

Who knows, BSU might have even been able to land former Grand Rapids star Eric Webb who averaged 9.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 3.8 apg this season as a starting guard for Furman University. Similarly, maybe BSU could've enticed former Elk River forward Matt Annen (who averaged 17 ppg and 11 rpg in high school) to stay in Minnesota after four years of mostly sitting the bench for Ohio University.

Now I'm not saying that bringing in transfers is the wrong approach, there have been several outstanding transfers to play for the Beavers over the years and there may be more in the future.

But speaking as a fan I am already excited about next season and with a few years of experience under their belts in the same system, I'm especially excited about what this group of recruits will be able to accomplish in the future.

I've never had that feeling before. That's saying something, right?

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