They played a men’s college basketball game at South Point Arena on Tuesday and there wasn’t a dunk over the 40 minutes.
There was half a dunk.
Scott Hoelzel drove off a break and tried throwing one down when a defender stepped over to help.
The ball clanked off the front rim.
“I should have reversed it,” Hoelzel said. “That way he wouldn’t have been able to contest me as hard.”
Spoken like a thinking man’s player.
Wisconsin-Stevens Point is a school on a 410-acre campus with a little over 9,000 students and 42 buildings that includes a nature preserve and lake. There are three sororities and five fraternities and some of the best darn basketball players you will find anywhere.
Best as in knowing how to play.
Best as in embracing a level that you will not find Dick Vitale screaming about, but terrific in its own way.
Division III basketball is special.
It’s just different.
Dick Bennett once said good basketball knows no division, that while some players are bigger and faster and quicker and can jump from the South Point to the MGM Grand, it doesn’t mean those who can’t should be any less skilled fundamentally through hard work and desire.
Bennett coached Stevens Point from 1976 to 1985 and the court at the school is named for him and his brother. The current team is a defending national champion that ran all over Colorado College 92-50 on Tuesday as part of the D3Hoops.com Classic.
“We have embraced the high standards of this program,” said six-year coach Bob Semling. “This is our time to be good stewards of the program. We know who we are. We know what level this is. We want to play the game the right way.”
Semling spent time at the Division I level, including a stint with New Mexico on Ritchie McKay’s staff, and understands the differences between where he was then and where he is now. His roster is full of kids from towns like Portage and Kaukauna and Krakow and Randolph and Madison.
Wisconsin kids. Wisconsin towns.
The best Division III teams — Stevens Point has won three national titles since 2004 and is ranked fourth nationally this season — normally wouldn’t beat the top 75 to 100 teams in Division I without some sort of celestial occurrence.
But what it can do is scare the living shorts off the better team. Stevens Point did so to Marquette in 2004. What it can do is force the Division I side to play its best to win.
Division I players don’t get up for a game against those from Division III, against players not afforded scholarships and less gifted athletically. But that’s not to say those from the larger conferences couldn’t learn a fundamental or two.
Division III basketball is not about isolating the best player and standing around watching him. It’s not about clearing a side for a Jimmer Fredette or Kawhi Leonard or Tre’Von Willis and telling him to go get a basket.
“Most everything we get offensively is created by all five guys on the court,” said Hoelzel, a senior forward who turned down Division II scholarship offers to stay home and play.
“It’s who we are — a bunch of kids who pay their own way to school and play because we love the game. I’m sure some of us watch (Division I) players on television make certain moves and think we could do that. I’m sure we have a few who could contribute at that level. But we have our own great traditions starting with national championships.”
Stevens Point can’t get nonleague games. Division II teams in surrounding states won’t play it for fear of losing to nonscholarships kids. Division I teams — save Wisconsin, which hosts a team from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference each season in an exhibition — also won’t take the chance of losing to the Pointers, even if the result doesn’t count.
This is the life one leads as the best of the best from a level of basketball that, while certainly not celebrated nationally as others, reminds those who love the game that there is more to it than “SportsCenter” highlights.
“For Wisconsin, there is unbelievable coaching at the high school level,” said Scott Krueger, a Stevens Point graduate who has called games on radio since 1981. “Most players from the state get to college very fundamentally sound. Now, do they have the physical tools of Division I players? Are they as big or strong or quick? No.
“There is your difference between Duke and Stevens Point.”
It is a fine line and yet it isn’t, both levels unique in their own ways. It is alike and incredibly different at the same time.
But you should have seen the ball movement from Stevens Point on Tuesday, the spacing, the talking, the help-side defense, the extra passes.
Dick Bennett hit the nail right on top of the two-handed chest pass.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can also be heard from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” FOX Sports Radio 920 AM.