"Big Dance" Interviews: Northern Colorado's Devon Beitzel & B.J. Hill

March 13th, 2011
Recently CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with two important pieces to the puzzle for the Big Sky champion Northern Colorado Bears, head coach B.J. Hill and guard Devon Beitzel. Beitzel was named Big Sky Player of the Year and also was MVP of the conference tournament, with the Bears beating Montana 65-50 in the title game. Northern Colorado will make their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance this week.

JT: Your scoring went up during each of your four years at Northern Colorado. How have you been able to improve from year to year?

DB: I have just tried to bring different tools into my offensive game each year. I was a stand-still shooter as a freshman, but have worked on coming off of screens and becoming a complete player (especially attacking the rim).

JT: You made your first 27 free throws of the season. What is your secret for foul shooting?

DB: I just try to be confident. I broke my foot last year and had two months where the only thing the coaches let me do was shoot free throws while everyone else was practicing.

JT: Your biggest loss of the season was a 23-point defeat at Arizona in November, where you scored only two points on 0-6 FG. What did you learn from that loss that you think will help you when you face a tourney-caliber team next week?

DB: I learned to stay aggressive: I obviously did not shoot well that night, which deterred me from attacking more.

JT: You were named Big Sky Player of the Year earlier this month after leading the conference in scoring. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding honor, and what is the secret to being a great scorer?

DB: I am definitely proud of the award, but never thought I would get it. I almost transferred after my first year, but it is great to see that my hard work has paid off.

JT: You missed the 2010 Big Sky Tournament after breaking your foot. How long did it take you to get healthy, and how important was it for you to get to the postseason this year?

DB: It took me a good 4 months until I could go again at full-strength: having patience was the hardest part. It was heartbreaking to not get to participate last year, so I was focused on making this the best year that I could. I did not want to have nay regrets.

JT: You were named Big Sky Tournament MVP after scoring 27 points in the title game win over Montana for your school's first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. How were you able to play your best when it mattered the most, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?

DB: My teammates really looked for down the stretch and set good screens, which helped me a lot. I am not a huge 1-on-1 player. I have never felt anything like the emotion of winning the conference tourney. It is still surreal to me!

JT: You were named First Team Academic All-American due to your 3.7 GPA in business finance. What importance do you place on academics, and how do you balance it with athletics?

DB: Academics have always been important to me because there is not much of a market for a 6' white kid to play basketball, so I figured school was my way to provide myself with the future I want (a job I like, a career I want to have, etc.). School just opens up so many opportunities, and it would be disrespectful for me to have a scholarship and let it go to waste.

JT: Your younger brother Dustin is in the Navy. How proud are you of his decision to serve our country?

DB: He did not have the same classroom discipline that I did, but boot camp has to be the hardest thing that anyone has ever gone through. Now he is out near Afghanistan supporting the troops, and I could not be prouder of him.

JT: You and Dustin moved in with Joan Louth's family after having a rough time at home with your birth parents. What kind of impact has Joan had on your life, and what did she say to you after you won the title?

DB: She has been huge for me, as she brought the stability to my life that I needed. I did not know what to expect when I asked her if I could move in, but she has been there for me the whole time. After we won she just told me how proud she was of me and how much she loved me.

JT: You already have a job lined up at Ernst & Young after graduation. What will you be doing for them, and would you consider deferring for a year if you lead your team to a couple of upsets in the tournament and the pro scouts start calling?

DB: It is a staff auditing position where I will make sure that companies are not screwing up their financial statements. I will definitely see after the season if there are any basketball opportunities out there for me. You only live once!

Head coach B.J. Hill

JT: Your father Pete was a high school coach in Iowa. How much of an influence was he on your own decision to become a coach?

DB: He was not necessarily part of my decision, but he certainly instilled his love of the game in me. I tried working at a sporting goods store after college, but it did not feel very fulfilling.

JT: You won the conference tournament title in your very first year as head coach: what makes you such a great coach, and how have you been able to be so successful so quickly?

DB: I am just lucky to have worked for a great guy who set the table (Coach Tad Boyle), a great group of players who would not quit, plus a great staff. I was just at the right place at the right time.

JT: Devon Beitzel has scored at least 23 points in each of your last seven games (all of which have been wins). Do you feel like your team is playing its best basketball of the season right now, and do you feel like you need Devon to keep scoring a lot of points for your team to have a chance to win next week?

DB: I actually do not think we are playing as well defensively as we did back in January; I would like us to tighten it up a bit. For us to have any chance in the tourney, we will need 40 minutes of a great defensive effort. Devon needs to score, but we are at our best when we have Chris Kaba and Neal Kingman in double-figures as well. If we can get a fourth guy to score 10 points, even better.

JT: I know you are not a fortune-teller, but what seed do you think you will get and what kind of team do you think you would match up well against?

DB: My staff tells me that we are rated between a 14 and 15 seed, I just hope we are not a 16 seed. I really do not care who we play at this point. We are just so happy to be a part of it.

JT: Your son Nate turned 8 on Wednesday: will you ever be able to top the gift you gave him of a trip to the NCAA Tournament?

DB: The first thing he said to me after the game is that this was the best birthday gift ever...and that he wants to do it again every year! There is no way we can top the thrill of getting to the tourney for the very first time, but we will try our best.