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A class act: Bison's Winkelman gifted academically, athletically

It wasn't North Dakota State's basketball playbook that Brett Winkelman plopped on his parents' kitchen table. It was his first college calculus test - which Winkelman was as proud of as being a Division I basketball player.

In their country home outside of Morris, Minn., Larry and Darcy Winkelman immediately spotted the big letter grade 'A.'

"See, you don't have anything to worry about," Winkelman told his parents during a break from his freshman year.

Winkelman has earned numerous 'As' during his five-year stay at NDSU. While becoming one of the best scorers and rebounders in NDSU basketball history, Winkelman sports a near-perfect 3.88 grade-point average majoring in industrial engineering and management.

A few days before the Bison earned their first berth into the NCAA tournament last week in Sioux Falls, S.D., Winkelman was named Division I's academic All-American of the year by ESPN The Magazine.

"He has always loved numbers and math," Darcy Winkelman said. "The knowledge part of school has always come easy to him. He just applies what he learns so well."

Even his success on the basketball court has seemed to come easy, according to Bison head coach Saul Phillips. Coaches often confused that ease with a lack of effort early in Winkelman's college career.

It had coaches concerned - a year when Winkelman, Ben Woodside, Mike Nelson and Lucas Moormann sat out of competition as redshirts with the idea of playing in the NCAA tournament as seniors.

"You sometimes wondered how into this he really was," Phillips said. "Part of our worrying about him was just not knowing him like we do now."

Which is: a two-time Summit League first-team selection, NDSU's No. 2 all-time leading scorer and rebounder, a Summit League male scholar-athlete of the year and a two-time academic All-American.

**Like mom and dad

Without hesitation, Winkelman confirms that he got his competitive edge from his mom and his academic skills from his dad.

Darcy Winkelman is a Hall-of-Fame athletic inductee at the University of Minnesota-Morris, where she played on a basketball team that reached the NCAA Division III national tournament.

Her uncle Terry Rheingans played semi-pro football. Her dad's cousin's son, Brad Rheingans, was a Hall-of-Fame wrestler at NDSU who later wrestled for the U.S. Olympic team.

Darcy coached a Morris High School girls basketball team - that included her 6-foot-1 daughter Katie - to a state tournament. During a practice early in her coaching career, she went into labor with Brett.

"My mom has this great smile and very soft and loving personality," Winkelman said. "But she is the most competitive person that I have ever met. If you want to go toe-to-toe with her, she will definitely compete with you."

Larry Winkelman's competitive experience ended with high school sports. He's now a computer specialist for the United States Department of Agricultural research department in Morris.

"He definitely was the academic guy in college," Winkelman said of his father. "He'll tell you that I got my hand-eye coordination from him. I don't know why, but he just thinks that."

**The final recruit

Perhaps that hand-eye coordination explains why Winkelman is able to maintain his balance so well on the basketball court.

His Bison teammates often joke that Winkelman makes more shots when defenders are hanging on him.

"His defining attribute is his ability to keep his balance while absorbing contract," Phillips said. "That's a trait not many players have."

Six years ago, Winkelman was a player NDSU almost didn't have. He was the last of the four fifth-year seniors to commit to NDSU.

Winkelman, who got a recruiting call from then Utah coach Rick Majerus, finished his basketball career at Morris as the school's second all-time leading scorer with 1,750 points. Little did he know the last high school points he would score would be at the same basket in Williams Arena as the first points he would officially score for NDSU.

During Winkelman's high school senior year, Morris lost an opening-round, state tournament game in Williams Arena to Braham - a team that included current Bison teammate Josh Vaughan.

Two years later, he scored his first collegiate points in Williams Arena when the Bison lost to the Minnesota Gophers 70-57.

"North Dakota State was always my fallback plan if I didn't get any other offers," said Winkelman, who also turned down a walk-on offer to play football at the University of Minnesota. "I just woke up one morning and realized North Dakota State was the place for me to go."

It didn't hurt that he played on the same summertime AAU team as Woodside - who constantly text-messaged Winkelman to come to NDSU. He also knew NDSU had recruited Mr. Basketball from Wisconsin (Nelson) and Mr. Basketball from North Dakota (Moormann).

"I figured it was a pretty amazing recruiting class to be a part of," said Winkelman, who really sensed something special when they won at nationally ranked Wisconsin as redshirt freshmen. "We thought the sky was the limit. And we haven't found the limit yet."

After college, Winkelman wants to keep playing basketball - more than likely overseas. Once that's over, he longs to get into a position to make a business better from the top down.

"He wants to be a CEO someday," Darcy said.

"I don't want to be stuck in a cubicle crunching numbers," Winkelman said. "That's not who I am."

He's an NCAA Tournament basketball player who is still proud of that calculus test.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

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