Sitting on the bench out of the rotation and not playing on the court can be a devastating thing to a college basketball player’s confidence and psyche.
When egos become involved, feelings are hurt. Ideally, coaches try to use playing time as a motivator for those not receiving it to work harder. It doesn’t always work that way, but with Wichita State sophomore Asbjorn Midtgaard, it has.
The sophomore 7-footer from Denmark started the season-opener, then played 36 minutes over the next 14 games. But in the last two weeks, Midtgaard has surged for the Shockers (9-11, 2-6 AAC) and is coming off his career-best game of 10 points, five rebounds and two assists entering Saturday’s 1 p.m. game against Tulsa (13-9, 3-6 AAC) at Koch Arena and broadcast on ESPNU.
So how did Midtgaard persevere for those two months when playing time was minimal?
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“You just have to,” Midtgaard said. “When you’re on a team, you owe it to the guys to keep going. You have to keep practicing, keep going hard, keep giving your 100 percent. Otherwise, it’s just disrespectful to the whole program.
“Of course, to get this opportunity to come out and play and help the team win, nothing feels better. It’s the best.”
That insight into Midtgaard’s mentality shows why he’s a beloved teammate on WSU and why the Koch Arena crowd goes crazy anytime “The Great Dane” does well.
“We’re happy for guys who really haven’t had the chance and start contributing and show what they can do,” WSU senior Markis McDuffie said. “It’s an amazing and beautiful sight to see.”
In the last five games alone, Midtgaard has played 84 minutes. That makes up 46 percent of the total minutes he’s played in his college career. And Midtgaard isn’t just playing, he’s producing, which has been crucial to provide support to starting center Jaime Echenique. In the four games he’s played double-digit minutes, Midtgaard has averaged 7.0 points on 14-of-19 shooting (73.7 percent) and 4.0 rebounds.
At 7-foot and 268 pounds, Midtgaard is WSU’s most effective screener. When utilized properly, Midtgaard can be a devastating roller in the pick-and-roll as demonstrated by two first-half plays on Wednesday against SMU when point guard Ricky Torres connected with Midtgaard for a pair of wide-open dunks.
Midtgaard has also been the team’s best offensive rebounder on a per-minute basis, as he grabs 10.4 percent of available offensive boards when he’s on the floor. Midtgaard has also shown a soft touch out to 10 feet, evident when he drilled three mid-range jumpers against UCF.
“To know Asbjorn is to love him,” WSU assistant Tyson Waterman said. “He’s a great kid and a great teammate. He’s always positive, even through his adversity, he overcame. That’s why we want to continue to build him up and hopefully he’ll continue to be a force in this league. The potential is there, we just have to get the mind right. If he really believes in himself, whatever the mind conceives and the heart believes, then the hands will achieve.”
There is a growing trend in the AAC to play smaller, quicker players at center who can shoot out to the three-point line. That’s difficult for a bigger player like Midtgaard to defend, which makes it a gamble every time WSU coach Gregg Marshall inserts him defending that type of matchup. Midtgaard has to capitalize on his size on the offensive end to make it worthwhile for the Shockers, something he showed he can do against SMU.
Midtgaard is still raw. He only started playing basketball at age 14. He still commits too many turnovers for a center; he can improve on his back-to-the-basket game; and he gambles too much on the defensive end chasing blocks.
“There will be times when there is no chance he can block the shot and he’ll still try to block the shot, which means his man has free reign for the offensive rebound and stick-back,” Marshall said. “He’s just got to understand sometimes you’ve got to build a wall. He’s not a vertical athlete. You’ve got to make sure when you do leave the basket, it’s a smart decision.”
But the past two weeks have shown Midtgaard has potential to work with. And coming off the best game of his brief WSU career, the 7-footer could play an important role again for the Shockers against Tulsa.
“The sign of a team on the rise is that when one kid doesn’t have their greatest game, another one steps up,” Waterman said. “Echenique has been struggling, but Asbjorn steps in and is doing really well. Now when we get them all playing well, we have a really good team. I think they’re a big piece of what we’re trying to do: look inside and get those easy baskets.”
Tulsa at Wichita State
Records: TU 13-9, 3-6 AAC; WSU 9-11, 2-6
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Koch Arena (10,506), Wichita
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
|No.||Wichita State (9-11)||Ht.||Wt.||Gr.||Ps.||PPG||RPG||APG|
About Tulsa: Tulsa is 1-5 on the road this season and is shooting 38 percent from the field and 29 percent on three-pointers in six road games. ... Both coaching staffs will wear green ties and a special lapel pin for the game, which has been designated a Fight for Literacy game to raise awareness about the issue of illiteracy... The last time Tulsa beat the Shockers in Wichita was 2001. ... Tulsa is coming off one of its best performances of the season, a 95-79 win over Memphis where DaQuan Jeffries scored a career-high 25 points. ... Tulsa was picked to finish ninth in the preseason AAC poll. Tulsa has finished better than its preseason prediction in all four seasons under Frank Haith. ... Point guard Sterling Taplin ranks sixth in career assists at Tulsa and needs 52 points to become a 1,000-point career scorer. ... Tulsa is 11-1 this season when scoring at least 70 points and 7-2 this season when holding opponents to fewer than 70 points. ... The Hurricane shot 32.5 percent on three-pointers in non-conference play, but that number has ticked up to 39.2 percent during AAC play.
About Wichita State: WSU is looking to win back-to-back games for just the fourth time this season. ... The Shockers have won 93 percent of their games (78-6) at Koch Arena in the last six seasons. ... WSU leads the all-time series, 67-61, and the Shockers have won the last six of those games played in Wichita. ... The Shockers snapped a three-game losing streak with an 85-83 last-second win over SMU on Wednesday. ... Senior Markis McDuffie is the second-leading scorer in the AAC at 18.5 points per game. He’s topped 20 points eight different times and needs 26 points to move up to No. 24 on WSU’s career scoring list. No Shocker has won the conference scoring title since Jason Perez averaged a Missouri Valley-best 20.2 points in 2000. ... Freshman Erik Stevenson is coming off his best game in two months, as he scored the most points (17) with the most threes (three) he’s had in a game since Dec. 1 in Wednesday’s win over SMU.