Cold truth helps lift Navy hopes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Discovering basketball talent in North Dakota has been likened to finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Hardy folks from this prairie state still talk of broad-shouldered Phil Jackson, a product of Williston, who played at North Dakota U. in the late 1960s before enjoying a solid 12-year career in the NBA and then coaching the Chicago Bulls to three straight championships.

Despite Jackson's success, few college basketball scouts have been willing to explore this frigid terrain the past 25 years.

Count Naval Academy assistant basketball coach Doug Wojcik RTC as an exception. And he has sophomore Randy Torgrimson, the Midshipmen's key backcourt reserve, to show for his intrepid nature.

Randy's brother, senior guard Ryan Torgrimson, made Don DeVoe's team as a walk-on two years ago, surviving a tryout of 70 players. But Ryan insists he put no pressure on Randy to follow him to Annapolis.

Randy was voted North Dakota's "Mr. Basketball" as a high school senior in 1993, an honor that in most states draws hordes of scouts.

"That may be true anywhere but in North Dakota," said Randy. "News like that seldom gets beyond our borders. And I wasn't inclined to play in these all-star camps back East where you draw a lot of scouts."

Louisiana State coach Dale Brown, a North Dakota native, invited Torgrimson to visit the campus in Baton Rouge, but it was more of a goodwill gesture.

"All Coach Brown offered me was a shot as a walk-on," Torgrimson said. "Other than that, my only other offers came from Division II schools in the Dakotas."

Enter Wojcik, who before his coaching days was the playmaker on the David Robinson-led NCAA squad of 1986-87 that finished 26-6.

As Wojcik tells his chilling tale, he suggests he still is thawing out from his 1993 visit to the Torgrimsons.

"My timing couldn't have been worse," he said. "I was on a 10-day western swing and had just scouted another prospect in Los Angeles. I was wearing a sweatsuit and sneakers when I arrived in Fargo in the dead of winter, complete with snow, ice and fog.

"My teeth were chattering, and the doors of my rental car were frozen solid. But Randy's dad, Bob, came to my rescue or I might have become an ice statue."

Bob Torgrimson is the best known high school coach in North Dakota, with three state titles to his credit. The last two came in 1992 and 1993 with Randy as his team leader. He set 12 school records at West Fargo and McDonald's, Converse and Gatorade all named him as the state's outstanding player.

"When I went to scout Randy, I didn't even watch him in a game," said Wojcik. "I went to one of his team's practices. I could see how well-coached he was, and that he was a very skilled player, capable of doing just about everything you wanted from a guard."

Randy's versatility might have actually held him back as a plebe when he started the season as a reserve point guard.

His switch to shooting guard late in the season helped spark Navy's strong 12-3 finish and victory in the Patriot League tournament, which earned the Mids an NCAA berth.

He started five games in February and contributed nine points and four steals in the 93-91 semifinal squeaker over Holy Cross. He finished the year with a 6.2 scoring average, hitting 82 percent of his free throws.

Said DeVoe: "Randy may not start a lot of games, but with his leadership, shooting range and excellent free throw shooting, I want him in there at the end of close games."

Outside shooting again will be the principal weapon of Navy's offense. DeVoe is blessed with excellent three-point shooters in senior T. J. Hall (13.7 ppg), junior Jim Hamilton (11.2), the younger Torgrimson, plus promising freshman Michael Heary, who scored 62 points in a game at Fredonia High in upstate New York.

The Mids also possess an outstanding floor leader in Brian Walker, a 5-foot-8 sophomore.

"My main concern this season is getting consistent scoring from our front line," said DeVoe.

"I'm looking for [senior forward] Larry Green to be more assertive offensively. [Junior 6-11 center] Alex Kohnen can be a real force in the Patriot League. He's got a fine shooting touch, but he has to get to the foul line more often.

"Overall, I'm feeling very good about this team. We gained a lot of confidence last year. We're tougher physically, and we've added depth at a lot of positions."

Not to mention a strong flavor of North Dakota.

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