John Hanstad was certain his days of playing organized basketball had ended at Dickinson High School.
Though he had planned to attend Dickinson State University, Hanstad was not convinced he had what it took to suit up for the Blue Hawk men’s basketball team.
“I remember sitting in the hallway outside the office, talking to John and saying, ‘Hey, give it a try. You never know what’s going to happen,’” DSU head coach Ty Orton said.
Five years later, Hanstad is preparing to wrap up a career in which he has become his team’s most trusted leader and, along the way, cemented himself as one of DSU’s all-time leading 3-point shooters.
Hanstad wraps up his surprisingly successful five-year career at DSU this week as the Blue Hawks host the University of Great Falls (Mont.) at 7:30 p.m. today and Montana State-Northern at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Scott Gymnasium. The team’s season ends Saturday since they are out of the race for the top six spots in the Frontier Conference and will be left out of the league’s postseason tournament.
Though he would have liked his senior season to have lasted longer, Hanstad said there’s a silver lining in being able to end his career on DSU’s home court.
“It’s definitely better than being on the road,” Hanstad said. “That’s what I was telling my dad yesterday. It’s going to be fun to have the last two here at home.”
Hanstad has started in more than threefourths of the games he has played, including every game in his sophomore and senior seasons.
As a senior in high school, Hanstad came off the bench on two deep and talented Midgets teams, including the 2006-07 Class A state championship squad.
As a senior guard, he took a back seat to his classmates Taylor Bruhschwein and Jake Bauer, as well as his younger brother Joe Hanstad. Then a freshman, Joe replaced his older brother in the starting lineup early in the season and never looked back. He is now a sophomore at Boise State.
John Hanstad said he remembers his redshirt season at DSU as the most formative year of his college career.
“After that redshirt year, I realized that there was no reason I couldn’t play here,” he said. “It was a lot of hard work. It was great to have that year, just to adjust from high school, maybe become a man a little bit, get a little stronger, a little bigger and understand it’s another level for sure.”
As a redshirt freshman, Hanstad’s time increased as the year wore on. He saw the floor sparingly early before getting a jump in playing time when senior Nate Williams was lost for the season with a knee injury.
“That’s when he started going, getting his time and getting after it,” Orton said.
The next season, Orton made Hanstad a full-time starter.
His work ethic demanded it.
“He earned that position,” Orton said. “He kept pushing and never quit. He knew what his role was from early on. If he had an open shot, he was going to shoot it. He was never in there to hurt the team. He was never in there to do anything detrimental.”
Hanstad has 171 career 3’s entering tonight’s game, which rank third on DSU’s all-time chart. He needs two to pass Mike Lynch for second and 11 to tie his former teammate Nathan Lebsock, the program’s all-time leader with 182 career 3-pointers.
“I’ve been a shooter since I was in the fourth grade,” Hanstad said. “That’s a strength of my game. That’s what I always fall back on when it gets tough.”
Later in Hanstad’s career, his role expended from 3-point sniper to allaround player, particularly as a reliedupon defender.
“He’s our defensive stopper,” said Destry Sterkel, a fifth-year senior and a groomsman in Hanstad’s wedding last summer. “He takes it upon himself to guard the toughest opponent and still holds himself accountable to make sure he has a good offensive game, as well.
“His work ethic has gotten him everything he’s earned here in his career. He is the glue to our team. He’s our leader.”
Hanstad has had a steady senior season for the Blue Hawks, averaging 8.9 points and 2.7 rebounds per game with 49 3-pointers and a career-best 49 assists.
Three of his last four games have been outstanding. He had career highs of 26 points and six 3-pointers in an 87-83 loss against Rocky Mountain College on Feb. 9.
“You sit there and think of so many people who have gone through hard times or bad times on a team and they’ve walked away because things weren’t going their way,” Orton said. “John didn’t see success right away or see that stuff early on. He never quit, he never complained, he never walked away. It showed that his hard work paid off and his positive attitude paid off and his dedication paid off. That’s what people have to realize. He’s a great example for the younger kids in Dickinson, to see what John did.”
Hanstad said it’s hard to think about what his life would be like now if he wouldn’t have decided to give basketball a try five years ago.
“It definitely made my college experience a lot more fun,” Hanstad said. “It’d have been a lot different situation in my life if I hadn’t played basketball.”