Oct. 26—GRAND FORKS — At one point last season, the UND men's basketball team was 1-10 in the Summit League. There were questions where the program was headed.
"At midseason, we kind of figured it out," said UND sophomore Treysen Eaglestaff, one of a handful of returning starters this season. "We put it all together and then we finished pretty well. I started to realize that the longer you play in this league, the more you realize what you can change.
"Early in the season I barely played; I was frustrated. I felt too stiff. I kind of felt like a robot, just doing things I was supposed to do. I had to stop playing like a robot, just do what I do and do the things they recruited me to do.
"So I started doing that in practice and that opened up my game. I started putting it together. Now, I know not to do too much but I know what to do in certain scenarios. It's opened up everything for me."
UND closed the regular season winning five of its last seven games. The Hawks then won an opening-round game in the Summit League tournament before falling to eventual champion Oral Roberts in the semifinals.
The question this season is this: Can UND capitalize on that momentum, considering the Hawks return a number of players with experience along with recruiting length and athleticism during the offseason.
The 2023-24 UND team clearly is the most athletic team in coach Paul Sather's five-year tenure and could be the most athletic Hawks team in the program's Division I era.
The 6-foot-6 Eaglestaff, 6-8 B.J. Omot, 6-9 Tsotne Tsartsidze and 6-4 Brady Danielson all saw time as starters last season, with 6-4 guard Elijah Brooks, and 6-10 Brian Mathews also seeing considerable playing time last season.
The addition of Iowa State transfer guard Eli King , 6-8 junior college forward Amar Kuljuhovic and 6-8 juco foward Deng Mayar should provide the Hawks valuable depth. And 6-6 freshman Mambourou Mara put on a dazzling dunk display during the program's fan fest a couple of weeks ago.
"We've got good depth, but defense and rebounding — along with continuing to evolve on offense — are the big things for us," said Sather.
UND was picked to finish fifth in the Summit League preseason poll, with Omot named to the preseason All-Summit League second team.
"I really see our team as one of the top two teams in the league," said Omot. "We've just got to go out and prove it. We've got to go out and do the work. "
Danielson, who has been the heart and soul of the program for the past few seasons, elected to come back for a fifth season for a specific reason.
"The way we ended last season, we were up and coming," said Danielson, who lost his father to cancer in August. "I felt this this is the year we can take that next step. I just want to be a part of that."
UND will play Northland in an exhibition game Nov. 1 before opening the season Nov. 7 at Iowa.