Ray Giacoletti has fielded several phone calls from media this week, thanks to the involvement of former employers Gonzaga, North Dakota State and Eastern Washington in March Madness.
“After winning nine games this season,” Giacoletti cracked, “it hasn’t been that way very often lately.”
Giacoletti, who just completed his second season as head coach at Drake, keeps close tabs on Gonzaga, where he served as an assistant coach from 2007-13 on Mark Few’s staff. Giacoletti was head coach at North Dakota State from 1998-2000 when it was a Division II program.
Second-seeded Gonzaga (32-2) meets No. 15 North Dakota State (23-9) on Friday at KeyArena in Seattle. In Giacoletti’s last season with the Bison, Dave Richman was a student assistant coach. Richman has worked his way up the ladder and took over as NDSU head coach this season.
“I’m a Zag, Mark Few is one of my best friends,” Giacoletti said. “But I’m really happy for Dave and I texted him right away after they won the (Summit League) tournament.”
Giacoletti caught 10-12 GU games on television when they didn’t conflict with his schedule.
“Every chance I get,” he said. “They have so many different weapons. Mark has done an amazing job to keep them playing at such a high level from the start to where they are now. People have no idea how hard that is. They had a little lull at the end of the season but I thought they played really well in the WCC championship game against BYU and they’re back on track.
“It’s the best time of the year to be playing your best basketball.”
North Dakota State played in the North Central Conference, considered the best Division II conference in the country, during Giacoletti’s tenure.
“I was an assistant at Washington when I got the job,” Giacoletti said, “and I was blown away by the level of coaching and how good the players were.”
Giacoletti was followed at North Dakota State by Greg McDermott (2001), Tim Miles (2002-07) and Saul Phillips (2008-14). McDermott now coaches at Creighton, Miles is at Nebraska and Phillips is at Ohio. All were influential in Richman’s development as a coach.
“From a player’s perspective, my early upbringing was terrible having a new coach every couple of years, but for a guy getting into coaching it was great because of the network,” Richman said. “They’re all really talented basketball coaches, but I learned way more from a people perspective. That’s a group with high character and integrity.”
The Bison became a full Division I member in 2009 after a five-year transition period. They made the NCAA tournament that season and have followed it up with back-to-back appearances the last two years. Miles redshirted several promising freshman that eventually became fifth-year seniors and cornerstones on the 2009 team coached by Phillips.
The 36-year-old Richman has been at NDSU 11 years with virtually every possible title: student assistant, grad assistant, second assistant, lead assistant and head coach.
“Dave was just quiet, taking everything in, hard working, a no-nonsense kind of guy,” said Giacoletti, who guided EWU to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history in 2004. “You knew something was different about him. He listened and worked hard and didn’t have opinions that maybe a lot of people would have at that age.
“I spoke to a guy at the Iowa state tournament last week and we were talking about North Dakota State. He said they weren’t very complex, but about as efficient and well-coached as you can be and they keep things simple. They pay attention to detail on every little thing. That’s a great credit to Dave.”
Drake plays in the Missouri Valley Conference, represented by Wichita State and Northern Iowa in the NCAA tournament. Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, who assisted McDermott at North Dakota State, is another of Richman’s coaching mentors.
Giacoletti said Drake is positioned to climb up the MVC standings with players already in the program, a couple of key transfers and recruiting additions.
“I’m excited,” he said. “We’ll be ready to win games next year.”
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