Rick Dietze still plays the game of basketball the way he did during the decade of the 2000s when he was leading the Bulldogs to the national quarterfinals. He isn’t afraid to call it what it is: it’s an “old-man game.” Call it whatever you want, he’s got game. Dietze used his craftiness to score more points than any other player in the GPAC during the 2003-04 season. On the evening of March 1, 2003, when a blizzard swirled through the plains of Nebraska, Dietze struck rival Dordt as if he was Old Man Winter.
The signature moment of his Concordia Basketball career stands out vividly 20 years later for Dietze, one of the latest selections set to join the Concordia Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I’ll never forget,” Dietze said. “Leading up to the day, it snowed and there was a blizzard. The game ended up having a late start. The gym was absolutely packed. I think everyone knew the game was going to come down to the last possession. We were down double digits in the second half. The turning point was a missed dunk by Dordt. After that happened, we clawed back and it ended up going to overtime. We sealed the game with free throws. It was definitely the most memorable game I’ve played in.”
Dietze consistently starred in front of the 1,100 fans that would cram into the old PE Gym. It was pure madness that March night when the Lincoln East High School graduate rallied the Bulldogs back from 11 points down midway through the second half. Dietze went off for 23 of his 27 points after halftime as Concordia won the GPAC tournament title game at home, 90-82, in overtime. It clinched a bid to nationals and propelled the Bulldogs to a Cinderella national tournament run to the quarterfinals where they were narrowly prevented from a national semifinal appearance.
Named the 2003-04 GPAC Player of the Year and an NAIA Division II Second Team All-American, Dietze was destined to take his place in the Concordia Athletics Hall of Fame (as announced on July 18). He’ll join legendary figures in program annals like Darin Engelbart, Jason Jisa, John Puelz, Devin Smith, Jon Ziegler and others. Dietze can stand on his own merit as someone currently ranked No. 7 on the program’s all-time scoring list with 1,625 points. He added 496 rebounds, 130 assists and 103 steals over his 124 career collegiate games.
As 2022 Hall of Fame inductee Grant Schmidt remarked prior to the 2003-04 season, “His season took such a turn as a result of him becoming a more complete player offensively and relying less on his ability from behind the 3-point line.” Schmidt commended Dietze on his ability to take over the GPAC championship game versus Dordt.
It was in the fall of 2000 that the 6-foot-4 Dietze followed former high school teammate Jared Calver to Seward. Said Dietze of his decision, “It was actually a pretty easy decision. Jared had just graduated from East and asked Coach (Marty) Kohlwey to come down and watch one of my games. After the game, Marty and Jared were down there and I got a chance to talk to them. I knew then that Concordia had the potential to be the college for me. After the season was over in the spring, I went down there a couple times to play some pickup games with current players. Just getting to know them and the coaching staff really was the deciding factor. Everyone was so nice. They already made me feel part of the team. It was pretty easy. I wanted to get out of Lincoln for college but be somewhere not too far.”
Dietze says the transition to college went quite smoothly as he came in along with Lincoln East teammate Joe Steinbach. Dietze earned immediate playing time as a freshman and averaged 4.1 points during the 2000-01 season. That campaign was a springboard for the softspoken business major who increased his scoring averages to 8.5 in 2001-02 to 18.9 in 2002-03 to 21.2 in 2003-04. As a senior, Dietze made 51.2 percent of his shots from the floor while shooting 36.2 percent from 3-point range and 82.6 percent from the foul line.
Dietze wasn’t trying to out-athlete the opposition. He was trying to outsmart and out-maneuver it. Said Dietze, “I call it the old man game. I never was the quickest on the court. If they left me open for a three, I’d shoot it. If the defender was close to me, I’d give them a pump fake or a shot fake and drive around them. One thing I really developed at Concordia was my post game. I never had one in high school until I got to Concordia. Marty and Coach Schmidt really worked with me on that. They helped me really develop that skill.”
Dietze still gushes about the impact Schmidt and Kohlwey had on his game – and on his life. They weren’t just basketball coaches to Dietze. They were like father figures and people he knew he could lean upon.
Said Dietze, “Coach Schmidt and Coach Kohlwey were two of the best coaches I ever played for. What I admired about Coach Schmidt was his passion and knowledge for the game. He knew his X’s and O’s, but he was really good at bringing out the best in his players. Besides basketball, he was just so personable and easy to talk to. He loved to joke around but knew when to be serious. It takes more than just a coach who knows their X’s and O’s, you have to be personable. That’s what I really remember about him.”
Dietze also gives credit to his teammates for setting him up to score and to have success. “I always felt like all my teammates had a part in my success,” Dietze said. “Starting as a freshman, I looked up to the upperclassmen like Derek Engelbart, Tim Schroeder, Drew Olson and Dave Ford, to name a few. They taught me the value of hard work and always pushed me to get better. They always did that in a positive way. I felt like everybody had a role in it.”
The connection to Concordia and the men’s basketball program remain special to Dietze, who plays in every alumni game that he can. He also played at this year’s Bulldog Golf Classic. He may have lost a step or two, but the competitive fire remains for one of Concordia’s all-time greats. “It’s still great to run up and down the court with past players and play my old-man game with shot fakes and slow drives to the basket,” he jokes.
The opposite of brash or attention seeking, Dietze never played the game for the recognition. He’d actually rather someone else take the spotlight. However, he won’t be able to avoid it on September 22 when he officially takes his place within the Concordia Athletics Hall of Fame. Just don’t expect his speech to exceed the length of the one given by Coach Schmidt one year ago. Says Dietze, “I’m just ecstatic to know that there are so many great athletes to have competed at Concordia and to have my name mentioned with them. I’m just so honored.”