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UND coach Paul Sather excited about development of three redshirting North Dakotans

Feb. 2—GRAND FORKS — When UND and North Dakota State meet in men's basketball Saturday, the on-the-court showcase of in-state products will be between Bison guard Boden Skunberg of Jamestown and Fighting Hawks guard Treysen Eaglestaff of Bismarck.

Behind the scenes, though, UND has three native North Dakotans attempting the road less traveled in college basketball these days.

Grand Forks Red River product Zach Kraft and the Bismarck Century duo of Anthony Doppler and Ryan Erikson are all redshirting as true freshmen.

In a transfer-heavy era where many players are hungry for immediate playing time, UND is attempting the development route of in-state talent — a process that was typical not that long ago and one familiar to UND head coach Paul Sather, who built strong NSIC teams at Northern State in that way.

"As far as development, we're really excited about what we're seeing so far," Sather said. "Sometimes, kids in that role as a redshirt have a hard time keeping that competitive line going because you know you're not getting in games, but they've done an awesome job of coming to work every day.

"They're figuring out college basketball and being a student-athlete. I think first semester there's a lot thrown on a young guy as freshmen. When you're a redshirt, you get a chance to breathe and not have the pressure of playing. That's helpful for them. All of the guys we felt like this is where they really wanted to be. They all bring something different to the mix."

All three come with impressive prep backgrounds.

Kraft scored 1,309 points in his career with the Roughriders, leading Red River to a state runner-up finish last spring. He was second team all-state and a Mr. Basketball finalist.

Erikson was also a Mr. Basketball finalist and a first team all-state choice, while Doppler was named to the second team.

Using a redshirt also allows the freshmen to focus on strength training — an area that likely prevented the trio from receiving more college basketball recruiting interest.

"They're changing physically," Sather said. "Ryan, what he looked like a year ago, looks a lot different. Kraft is putting on weight and is stronger. (Doppler) is continually changing his body and makeup physically. All those things will be helpful. It's hard to predict what comes next year or how fast they'll develop. They've all had moments where you can really see it and see how they're improving."

Can UND build a roster this way in today's college basketball landscape? Sather has experienced first-hand the uncertainty of a roster from year to year. Even when young players have received playing time, the Hawks have seen those players transfer — Paul Bruns went to South Dakota after winning Summit League Freshman of the Year honors and Tyree Ihenacho went to James Madison after winning the same award before eventually returning to Grand Forks this season.

"That's a great question," Sather said. "It's really been changing a lot with how you develop and build a program. Over the years, you bring in freshmen and sometimes they play right away and sometimes you redshirt and pay your dues before going out and playing a lot. You used to be able to look at a roster and see two or three years down the road. It's really hard to do that anymore without any kind of assurance.

"What I like about our guys we're redshirting, I can see how they can fit in and have a role."

Sather likes the shooting ability of the 6-foot-2 Kraft.

"He maybe lacks some size at the two and needs to work on his handles to be that handler guard," Sather said. "But the work he does and the game speed prep he brings every day, you can really see it. There's a great opportunity for him."

Sather said Doppler needs to work on his foot speed to defend at the Division I level.

"He's smart and has a good feel," Sather said. "How quickly does that translate? That's what is exciting about it. You see it. I can tell you without using coach talk, I really have seen awesome things from these guys and they can help at this level."

The 6-10 Erikson, Sather said, is working on his foot speed so he can guard back-to-the-basket bigs in the Summit League.

"With his offensive skill set, he's further along than I thought he would be at this point in time," Sather said.

Although he's not a North Dakotan, Sather includes Matthew Bothun in this mix. Bothun is a 6-9 forward from St. Francis, Minn.

"There are days in practice where we really struggle to get a stop," Sather said of his starters against the scout team. "Throw in (Daniel) Hong who really shoots it well. They've given us, when we prepare for a St. Thomas, a good look of how St. Thomas plays. I've been more than happy what I've seen from them."

Who: NDSU at UND.

Where: Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

When: 3:30 p.m.

TV-radio: 100.3 FM, Midco Sports.

Recent success: Both teams are coming off road wins Thursday. The Bison beat South Dakota State on a late tip in overtime, while UND won a fifth-straight game with a double-digit victory at South Dakota.