Leaving a legacy: Accolades pouring in for Rudolph, but senior MSU forward would rather win games
A few days after the end of every season, Minot State men’s basketball coach Matt Murken meets one-on-one with every returning player.
These meetings aren’t really rocket science, they err more on the side of self evaluation.
What did a player do right the previous year, what didn’t he? What’s their plan for the offseason? Any individual goals for next season? More cliche questions and so forth.
When rising senior Tyler Rudolph walked into Murken’s office for his appointment, the sixth-year MSU coach figured they might have a lot to discuss.
Rudolph had just became the first player in school history to be selected to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference first-team, but potential higher individual honors awaited in his final go-around. If the Bismarck native merely matched his statistics from the year before, he’d become the Minot State’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder.
Murken began the meeting by going over the season’s end, which wasn’t a happy memory. The Beavers’ defense had let them down for what seemed like the 15th time that year in a 80-77 loss to Sioux Falls in the first round of the NSIC Tournament game.
Then, it came time to discuss individual goals.
Rudolph leaned back, crossed his arms and didn’t hesitate.
“Win more games,” he said.
That was all he had to say. The meeting was over in less than 5 minutes.
“It was almost as if he was offended I dare ask him if he had any other goals,” Murken said.
There were always the Jamestown’s of the world ready to pounce at 6-foot-6 forward prospect like Rudolph his senior year at Bismarck Century. But there was little to no interest from higher levels.
Until Minot State came along.
Since being thrust into a starting role for the Patriots midway through his sophomore season, Rudolph has never had a problem scoring inside. That didn’t mean the red flags weren’t there for some scouts. He was thinner than some basketball minds would like a collegiate forward to be, his outside shooting wasn’t a prominent feature of his game and there were concerns about his quickness and athleticism.
Murken decided that wasn’t enough to deter him.
“One of our biggest things with recruits is we look at the player they could be rather than the player they are now,” Murken said.
Four years later, Rudolph is shooting a 51 percent shooting clip from 3-point range and has bulked up considerably.
“My selling point was his best basketball is ahead because of his love for the game and his work ethic,” Century coach Darin Mattern said. “He just always had that mindset where he always wanted to get better. Nothing was good enough. I said he’s going to be a great student and a great citizen. He’ll also be one of the best teammates your guys ever had. You take the stats aside, you can’t ask for a better person to have in that program.”
Whether individual success was on his mind or not, Rudolph has certainly seen his fair share of it this year.
He’s won the NSIC North Player of the Week award five times this season, the most a player in either division has been given the league’s weekly honor. Paul Harrell’s 38-year school scoring record of 1,826 career points finally fell to Rudolph on Jan. 27. The same can be said for John Schaffer’s former school-high rebounding total of 774, which was passed on Dec. 9.
With four games left in the regular season, Rudolph sits at 1,864 career points and 862 rebounds. If he scores slightly more than his season average of 21.1 points per game, he’ll reach 2,000 points if the Beavers make the second round of the NSIC Tournament.
But the best place to find Rudolph on campus isn’t in the Hall of Fame. It’s on the MSU Dome’s basketball court. Regardless of whether he scored 40 points the night before, or two. If Rudolph’s not in class, it’s likely he’s doing shooting drills with teammates, his coaches, or just by himself, if necessary.
“I think my parents instilled in me that you’re not going to be given anything in life,” Rudolph said. “They have always worked for what they’ve been given in life and I’ve just tried to take that example ever since. I knew I was going to have to earn any success I’ve ever had.”
The accolades have come in frequent numbers. There yet still may be more to come, such as another NSIC first-team selection and the conference Player of the Year award.
But like he’s already said, he doesn’t care.
Instead, Rudolph would prefer a long NSIC Tournament run and the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance.
The good news: Minot State has already reached Rudolph’s preseason goal of winning more games, going from 14 wins last year to 17 wins, the most a MSU team has had in the Division II era.
As for the bad, the Beavers once appeared destined for an NCAA Tournament berth after a 16-2 start, but have gone 1-5 since. MSU probably has to win its last four games to have a chance at an at-large berth without winning the conference tournament, and even that might not be enough depending on what other teams in the Central Region do.
Despite this end season slump, Rudolph is trying not to let adversity impact him. After all, this whole winning thing is still kind of new for the Beavers.
“It’s very hard as you’ve seen these past few weekends,” Rudolph said. “We’ve let it slip up a little bit. I think that definitely caught our attention, because we’re riding this high wave of winning a lot of games. But you can’t take any days off, because any team in this league can beat you.”
The career of arguably the greatest MSU men’s player is nearly over, but Rudolph plans to go out how he entered: full speed ahead.
“This is a mature group and a group I’m really excited about,” Rudolph said. “I just think this could be the year we finally make that postseason push.”
Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge.