College men's basketball: Wieck has UMD heading in right direction

A symphony of squeeks filled Romano Gym on the Minnesota Duluth campus Wednesday afternoon as the UMD men's basketball team competed in a half-court scrimmage.

First-year Minnesota Duluth men's basketball coach Justin Wieck talks to his players during Wednesday's practice at Romano Gym. (Clint Austin /
First-year Minnesota Duluth men's basketball coach Justin Wieck talks to his players during Wednesday's practice at Romano Gym. (Clint Austin /

A symphony of squeeks filled Romano Gym on the Minnesota Duluth campus Wednesday afternoon as the UMD men's basketball team competed in a half-court scrimmage.

The Bulldogs were coming off a tough 73-70 overtime loss on Saturday at Mary - a game that, in a lot of ways, they should have won - and new coach Justin Wieck said his team understandably was in "a fog" earlier in the week, the sting of that loss still fresh, but they could take pride in their effort.

"There's going to be times where you play hard and still lose, but you can't have games where you just don't play hard, because I know we're not winning those," Wieck said. "They really bought into that."

Wieck, 34, liked what he saw Wednesday as the scrimmage was intense. Players dove for loose balls and got physical. They fist-bumped and high-fived. They harped on each other, they screamed and shouted and scowled, but at the end, they huddled as teammates. That's how you prepare for your NSIC home opener on Friday against an excellent Sioux Falls team.

"Just trying to get the guys going, but at the end of the day, you are a family, you are a team," senior forward Sean Burns said. "Coach always preaches that to us, that you stick together, but he always emphasizes that we bring energy to practice, because you got to set the tone for game day."


From Iowa to UMD

Wieck (pronounced "Wick") hails from North Liberty, Iowa, and after a rewarding two-season career at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he joined the Iowa program as a walk-on forward in 2004. He earned a scholarship as a senior as the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten Tournament and made their second straight NCAA tournament appearance.

After graduating, Wieck stayed on at Iowa for four seasons, working under Steve Alford and Todd Lickliter, before two-year coaching stints at NSIC member Northern State and Jamestown (N.D.), where as the head coach he directed the Jimmies to an NAIA national tournament appearance in 2012-13.

From there, he spent four years as an assistant at NSIC school Minnesota State-Moorhead, helping the Dragons to a 96-38 record, three NCAA Division II tournament appearances and two conference titles.

"I have a lot of ties to our league," Wieck said.

Wieck was one of four finalists for the UMD job, including Ohio Dominican head coach Dan Evans, UMD assistant Matt Hockett and North Dakota assistant Jeff Horner.

Horner and Wieck were teammates at Iowa and stood in each other's weddings.

"I know Coach Alford put in a good word for us, but he wasn't going to pick," Wieck said.


Wieck replaces Matt Bowen, who went 67-105 in six seasons with the Bulldogs. After a 4-25 mark in 2016-17, the Bulldogs went 12-18 last season, but it wasn't enough improvement for Bowen to keep his job.

Wieck wasn't buying the idea of rebuilding, and he certainly wasn't selling it. UMD returned all but two players, including three seniors and five juniors.

"Those players don't want to wait," Wieck said. "They don't have time to wait."

A new attitude

Starting in early September, Wieck was allowed two hours a week with the Bulldogs on the court and six hours of weight lifting and conditioning, in addition to study sessions at the library. Probably more than a player or two was taken aback by the intense approach to preseason workouts.

"It's pretty limited, but you can really set the tone for what's expected here," Wieck said. "We're trying to up our competitive level, our intensity level, every day, and to our guys' credit, they were very willing to do it. It's kind of hard in the moment, doing all that conditioning, but you have to put in the time to be successful, and our guys understood that."

Despite the setback on Saturday, UMD is off to a 5-2 start and 2-1 mark in NSIC play. That includes a 91-81 victory over then-No. 13 St. Cloud State on Dec. 1, winning for only the third time in 24 years in St. Cloud while helping make believers of the Bulldogs.

Junior forward Brandon Myer of Superior led the way with 31 points and 15 rebounds.


"It was super cool," Myer said of the win. "That was maybe a game before where we went in thinking we were going to lose. We were really young and sometimes overmatched, but this season we're feeling good, we're feeling confident and we're going into every game expecting to win."

Myer leads the Bulldogs at 19.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Burns (12.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) has shown nice improvement while working in the post with assistant coach Casey Bruggeman, while junior guard Logan Rohrscheib (11.9 ppg) is a 40 percent 3-point shooter.

Wieck's offense is all about movement, with Wednesday's drills emphasizing ball screens and ball rotation. UMD runs less set plays than before. He would eventually like the Bulldogs to push the ball more.

"It's a new offense for everybody," Wieck said.

While Wieck carries a whistle, he rarely uses it. Bruggeman is more the hardnose type.

"I can be intense, but I'm not the type to ride guys," Wieck said. "Casey is more of that Type A personality. It's been a good match."

Whatever the case, it appears to be working.

"These guys need to know we support them," Wieck said.

And they do.

Just ask them.

"It think it's just a more comfortable feel this season," Myer said. "Everyone is here to work hard and get better. Everybody's attitude is good and the intensity is there. We get after each other in practice, but the good thing about this team, no matter what happens on the court, afterward we're going to hug it out off the court."


What: UMD basketball women's and men's NSIC home openers

When: 5:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Romano Gym

Records: Sioux Falls women (7-1 overall, 3-0 NSIC), UMD women (3-2, 2-1)

Sioux Falls men (7-2, 2-1), UMD men (5-2, 2-1)

Related Topics: BULLDOG SPORTS
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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