Former NDSU athletic director Taylor enjoying Kansas State’s ‘special’ run in NCAA
Gene Taylor had his share of memorable NCAA moments when he was the athletic director at North Dakota State.
Taylor watched the Bison make the Division I men’s basketball tournament in 2009 in the first season the program was eligible to make the Big Dance. In 2014, he watched NDSU upset Oklahoma in the first round for the program’s first NCAA victory.
Taylor is now the athletic director at Kansas State, which reached the Elite Eight with its dramatic 61-58 victory against Kentucky on Thursday night in Atlanta.
He said it’s not easy to compare this current Kansas State run to those NDSU moments, which featured central figures like former Bison point guard Ben Woodside and former head coach Saul Phillips.
“It’s really hard to compare,” Taylor said Friday. “The first trip to the NCAA was huge with Ben Woodside and those guys. And then Saul’s win over Oklahoma. Those things were just so unexpected, but this (Kansas State) team was picked to be eighth in the Big 12 and they just keep finding a way to win. … It’s pretty special to be this far in the tournament. It’s hard to even imagine.”
The No. 9-seeded Wildcats (25-11) face an even more unlikely story in the next round of the tournament, with a trip to the Final Four at stake. Kansas State plays No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago (31-5) at 5:09 p.m. Saturday in the national quarterfinals.
“You’re one potential win away from going to the Final Four and then that’s just another whole level there,” Taylor said. “Loyola is certainly standing in our way and they’re pretty good themselves.”
The Ramblers have become the tournament’s darling with 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the team’s chaplain, reaching celebrity status. Kansas State knocked off No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County 50-43 to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
“We were not the crowd favorite against UMBC and we weren’t the crowd favorite (Thursday) and we won’t be the crowd favorite Saturday,” Taylor said. “I think our kids are kind of used to it.”
Taylor has been impressed with Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber, whose team has had to overcome varying adversities (injury to key players and foul trouble) in its three victories to reach the Elite Eight.
“I’m just so happy for Bruce and his staff because they’ve been a little bit maligned here over the years,” Taylor said. “They’re a great group of kids. They really are. … They’re guys that weren’t highly recruited, probably got overlooked by a lot of teams that they’ve had a chance to beat. They’re just a great group of guys. They’re really close as a team and it’s kind of fun to see them have this kind of success.”
The Taylor family had two basketball rooting interests on Thursday night. Jared Taylor, Gene’s son, is a freshman at Northern State (S.D.) where he plays quarterback for the football team. The Wolves men’s basketball team earned a 105-99 double-overtime victory against Queens (N.C.) in the Division II semifinals at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls to reach Saturday’s D-II national title game.
“He was at a buddy’s house and they had two TVs in the room, one for the Northern State game and one for the Kansas State game,” Gene Taylor said. “Most of the people in the room were more focused on Northern State. He was yelling at both so it was a little hard to focus at times because Northern State had such a good game, too.”
Taylor was the athletic director at NDSU for the school’s first three Division I Football Championship Subdivision championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Those titles hold a special place in his athletic director memory bank.
“Winning a national championship, you just can’t compare that,” he said.
The finality of winning a championship game gives it a different feel than advancing through an NCAA tournament, even one with as much fanfare as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“We’ve still got another game to play,” Taylor said. “You can enjoy it for a few minutes, but then you’ve got to get back to work.”