More aggressive Brian Sitzmann looking to step up for UMC this season
After a win over Bemidji State last November, Minnesota Crookston assistant coach Krayton Nash was eyeing a stat sheet. His eyes drifted towards one name — Beaver guard Nick Wagner — and it was clear he liked what he saw.
"Locked his ass up," Nash chuckled. "Brian got them handcuffs."
Wagner, a Division I transfer, had come into the contest having scored 62 points in Bemidji State's first two games, while shooting 59 percent from the floor and 56 percent from three. Against the Golden Eagles, his line paled in comparison — eight points, 2-of-14 shooting and three turnovers in 39 minutes — and there was one player most responsible.
As a redshirt freshman two seasons ago, Brian Sitzmann earned a spot in Minnesota Crookston's starting lineup in large part because he could lock people's asses up. The 6-foot-4 guard from Savage, Minn. averaged 7.0 points that season and 7.4 the next, but where he really made his mark was on the defensive end.
"That was kind of the highlight of my game," Sitzmann said last week.
Which suited the Golden Eagles just fine. Harrison Cleary, the NSIC's all-time leading scorer, gave them plenty of offense already. Sitzmann's job was to put the clamps on the other team's best perimeter threat, and hit open shots when defenses devoted extra attention to Cleary.
Now, for the first time since 2016, UMC won't have Cleary, who's now playing pro ball in Spain. And while everyone's role becomes different without a superstar to orbit around, Sitzmann's might change a bit more than most.
Not only is Sitzmann the team's top returning scorer, he's also the longest-tenured Golden Eagle. UMC's roster is made up of 12 newcomers, three players in their second year, a third-year player, and Sitzmann, who's about to begin his fourth season with the program.
According to head coach Dan Weisse, it showed last week, when the Golden Eagles scrimmaged 5-on-5 for the first time. While many of the newcomers predictably appeared "sped up," Sitzmann played with calmness, exuding an aura of "been there, done that."
"It's great when you get them a year older," Weisse said. "He just seems a little bit stronger, plays a little bit more within himself, really understands the game a little more. ... I don't wanna say we were a one trick pony last year, but we certainly lose a heavy lot of our scoring. I think Brian has that mentality where he can pick some of that up."
That doesn't mean averaging 20 points a game. Sitzmann knows he's not going to produce Cleary-type numbers, but he still thinks he was a bit too passive last season. To him, it's mostly about mindset. There's nothing in particular he wants to add to his game that he couldn't do before — he just wants to do a little bit more across the board.
"At this point, for me being an upperclassman and everything, it's kind of just a confidence thing," Sitzmann said. "I do want to be more aggressive in taking the ball to the hole ... being aggressive at the rim, basically."
Weisse notes that Sitzmann "hates to lose," but doesn't always express that vocally. This year, though, both player and coach know that needs to change, at least to a degree. Sitzmann doesn't have to change his leadership style overnight, but he will be looked to as a voice of experience, and counted on to point things out when needed.
"Twelve people haven't experienced an NSIC game yet, and there's a lot of really good players in (the NSIC)," Sitzmann said. "I wanna make sure that everyone understands that, just by being a leader vocally, being positive and telling people what's going on."
Added Weisse: "Now is his time to do that. If he just does that on top of just being a consistent defender, making open shots, driving the ball and be a little bit more aggressive, then we'll be on to something."
Weisse expects Minnesota Crookston to operate largely by committee, especially with so much roster turnover. But Sitzmann's one of the few constants in the equation.
And that, as much as lockdown defense or increased scoring output, will define his role this season.
"I think guys just look to him," Weisse said. "He always finds himself in the right position, he's always competing, he sets the tone. He'll no longer defer."
The Times welcomes your feedback. You can send any comments or questions to our office at (218) 281-2730 or sports editor Jacob Shames at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow along on Twitter @crookstonsports and @Jacob_Shames for all the latest stories and live game updates.