True Love for SDSU

Brian Kimmes

Brian Kimmes

Volga native Andy Kleinjan grew up an SDSU Jackrabbit fan, dreaming that one day he would don the blue and gold.

“I think I went to my first Jackrabbit game when I was, like, six months old or something like that,” Kleinjan said. “I can remember after SDSU games going home, playing outside, just for a half hour because it was so cold out, pretending to be (former Jackrabbit players).”

In the fall of 2003, Kleinjan no longer needed to pretend to be a Jackrabbit. He played in his first game in Frost Arena.

“It was a little bit nerve-racking, just because, you know, when you grow up in this area, SDSU players are almost like NBA players for kids in this area. Going into it, this is almost as big as it could get,” he said.

Kleinjan’s four years as a player were very much like the NBA, with teammates coming and going like there was free agency.

“I definitely had a wide variety of teammates, and a lot of teammates compared to what I thought I would have,” he said.

During the past three seasons, the men’s basketball team has experienced player after player leaving, yet Kleinjan did not consider leaving SDSU and holds no ill will toward his past teammates who did leave.

“I never thought about leaving. This is where I wanted to be,” he said.

Kleinjan witnessed some of the worst seasons for men’s basketball in recent history in person, yet he said he is glad he chose SDSU.

“I think the highlight had to have been when I hit a 3-pointer to send us into overtime against Denver. … Another highlight would be when we beat North Dakota last year at home. … Lowlights, I don’t think I really have any. (You) tend to forget those,” he said.

Head Coach Scott Nagy said he will have fond memories of Kleinjan.

“He’s been loyal and stuck it out,” Nagy said. “That says a lot about him.”

Nagy said he relied on Kleinjan to help explain to the new players what to expect when they joined the Jackrabbits. Nagy said Kleinjan and fellow senior Jose Frias were the “glue” for the team this season.

“It’s easy for young guys to get discouraged,” Kleinjan said. “The biggest thing we had to do this year was keep them motivated.”

In addition to seeing teammates come and go, Kleinjan has seen first hand the transformation from a Division-II team to a D-I program.

“The biggest thing is when I came here, you expected to win. And then when we made the Division-I switch, you didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I think going into Division I, we knew we could compete at that level. I think there was a few circumstances that kept us from having the kind of success we thought we’d have.”

Although Kleinjan was recruited as a Division-II player and said he expected to spend his whole career at D-II, he was pleased with the move to D-I.

“I was excited about it. I mean, it’s a dream of every kid that’s played basketball in high school and middle school and elementary, to play in those gyms, to play in Rupp Arena (University of Kentucky), to play at Illinois. That’s a dream to play in those Saturday afternoon games that are televised.”

After playing in those Saturday afternoon games, Kleinjan’s career ended on a blustery Saturday night in Frost Arena, more than 20 years after he first entered.

“Going into it, you kind of know this is it, so just leave everything on the floor,” he said.

After the final game March 3, freshman Kai Williams said the team wanted to win the last home game for Kleinjan and Frias. The Jacks beat New Jersey Tech, 71-61.

“It’s a great feeling. It speaks to the relationship I had with my teammates this year,” Kleinjan said.

As the clock ticks down on Kleinjan’s time at SDSU, he now looks to what the future will bring.

“I think basketball will always be a part of my life one way or another,” he said. “I think I’ve always had a little bit of an itch for coaching.”

Perhaps one day he will return to his lifelong love as Coach Kleinjan. Andy Kleinjan’s five-year career as a South Dakota State Jackrabbit came to a close during spring break. Dakota State senior Andy Kleinjan receives a framed jersey and picture of himself as a gift from men’s Head Coach Scott Nagy on March 1 before their game against IPFW at Frost Arena.: