Michael Daum leads Jackrabbits to NCAA tournament
Michael Daum grew up playing basketball.
Daum is the son of former Crook County High School basketball star Michelle Hoppes-Daum and Mitch Daum. The native of Kimball, Nebraska, is currently considered to be one of the top big men in the country at the college level. Not a huge surprise when you consider that Michelle was an All-American at the University of Wyoming and went on to a professional basketball career in Europe.
Playing for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, Daum has received national attention despite the relative obscurity of his school.
Always a prolific scorer, Daum credits his mom with his shooting prowess.
"That's something that my mom kind of taught me at such a young age, was to be able to shoot the ball," he said. "So no matter how tall I got, I was able to step out and knock down some threes."
That range has created matchup problems for Jackrabbit opponents for each of Daum's three years at the university. This year, he is averaging nearly 24 points a game and more than 10 rebounds a contest, while shooting .421 from behind the 3-point arc.
"I definitely think that I am a matchup problem for a lot of teams," he said. "Because if you put a smaller guy on me, I'm able to take them into the post, or if you put bigger guys on me, I can stretch them out to the 3-point line."
Daum first gained national attention while playing for an AAU team in Fort Collins, Colorado, during high school.
That exposure led to recruiting opportunities, including South Dakota State. One trip to Brookings, South Dakota, and Daum fell in love with the university.
"The exposure in Fort Collins just led to South Dakota State being one of my offers, and when I eventually took a recruiting trip up there, it was the perfect place for me, so I ended up committing," Daum said.
Daum, now a junior, came into a program that was already experiencing some success. The year before he arrived, the Jackrabbits finished the season with a 24-11 record and a trip to the National Invitational Tournament.
However, since his enrollment at South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits have enjoyed unprecedented success.
His freshman year, the Jackrabbits finished with a 26-8 record and earned a trip to the first round of the NCAA tournament, where they lost to the University of Maryland.
Last year, the team struggled most of the season, heading into the Summit League tournament with a losing record. However, the Jackrabbits got hot at just the right time, sweeping through the league tournament and winning a surprising title along with an automatic berth to the NCAAs.
"My very first year when we went (to the NCAA tournament) it was like, wow, this is a great feeling, this is what it feels like to make it," Daum said. "And then last year was kind of an out-of-the-blue thing. No one had us going, but we ended up pulling it out, so we just kind of went out there and tried to do what we could do."
The Jackrabbits had the misfortune of drawing the eventual second-place Gonzaga Bulldogs in the opening round of the tournament, a 20-point loss.
Although South Dakota State has another tough matchup — the Jackrabbits are seeded 12th and will play Ohio State in Boise, Idaho, on Friday — Daum says that this year the team is ready.
"This year has been something special," he said.
The Jackrabbits, who are 28-6, have one of the best records in the country, and an impressive resume. Their wins include a victory over Colorado of the Pac-12, and the losses include reasonably close games against Kansas and Missouri State.
"Coach did a great job at the start of the season scheduling teams for us that we could get that experience right away of what it's like to play in a tough environment and play against teams that we know it's going to come down to the wire against," Daum said. "I think that just leads to us having experience rolling into the tournament that will help us out tremendously."
The addition of freshman guard David Jenkins has provided some offensive spark for the Jackrabbits. Daum added that upper classmen Reed Tellinghulsen, Skyler Flatten and Tevin King have all stepped up their offensive output.
The Jackrabbits are averaging an impressive 84.9 points a game, while holding opponents to 84.1 points.
And, South Dakota State is on a roll. The team lost just one league contest all season and have won 19 of their last 20.
Three times this season the team has scored more than 100 points.
Meanwhile, Daum has scored 30 points or more 11 times this year and has had just one game where he failed to score in double figures.
"This year, it seems like more than anything I've got to see what the defense gives me," Daum said. "We have a lot of great scorers on this team and a lot of opportunities for me come from being able to get other guys open. I feel like when I focus on getting my teammates open is when it seems like my shots will start to come. So a lot of focus is just making sure that I'm doing what I can to help our team score the ball during the game."
With a high-powered offense and tournament experience, Daum says that the Jackrabbits aren't just satisfied to be going to the tournament this year, they want to win games.
"I've been blessed to be able to go three times, and it's just a combination of having great teammates, having a great coaching staff and great fans all there to support you along the way," he said. "We are definitely expecting a lot more out of ourselves this year and to hopefully get a couple of wins."
Despite the high expectations, Daum says that as underdogs, the team isn't feeling any pressure.
"We have nothing to lose, and I think guys know that," he said. "So I think we just go in calm and relaxed, and it allows us to play free and open. We still have high expectations for ourselves so we are just going to go in there and take it a single game at a time like we have been all season and work on controlling what we can control during the game. All I know is you can tell everyone out there in Prineville to mark us as one of their upset picks in their tournament brackets this year."