Like many coaches, Northern Illinois men's basketball coach Ricardo Patton uses inspirational quotes to motivate and educate his young team. His thought for the day on Thursday seemed appropriate for his second season at the helm of the Huskies. "Our thought for the day is ‘if you don't know where you're going, ask for directions'," Patton said. "Our guys don't know how to get there. They don't know how to get to the (NCAA) tournament, because they've never been. So it's incumbent on the coaches to show them how to get there."
The Huskies are coming off a 6-22 (3-12 MAC) season that they are bound to improve upon in Patton's second year. NIU is predicted to finish sixth in the MAC West as voted by the league's coaches in their pre-season poll.
To help guide his team to somewhere they haven't been before, Patton recently brought in one of his former players, Chauncey Billups, to speak to his team. Billups, who was recently traded to the Denver Nuggets, is someone who has been there before. Chauncey played in the NCAA tournament under Patton at Colorado.
The Huskies learned plenty from Billups' visit. "The biggest thing he shared with them was being consistent," Patton said. "One of the characteristics of youth is inconsistency. We talk to our guys about becoming more consistent. There has to be some consistency in your life for there to be growth. He talked a great deal about them becoming consistent. If you shoot the ball, shoot the ball consistently well. If you're a rebounder, rebound every night."
Billups also participated in a pickup game with the Huskies. "When he played with the guys, the first thing they noticed is how under control he plays," Patton shared. "He never hurried. The great ones kind of see things in slow-motion. They also noticed his strength, which helps when we talk to our guys about getting in the weight room."
With just five players returning who saw action last season, Patton knows that he has a young group. "I think this team is probably going to be going through some growing pains, but through it all this is a group that's going to be together for awhile," Ricardo remarked. "What we have to do is teach them how to band closer together through those down times. Everybody can come together when everything's going well, but when we hit a bump in the road, to keep them together and teach them how to learn from that as opposed to fragmenting and becoming a frazzled team."
With so many newcomers on this team, last year's MAC freshman of the year, Darion Anderson seems like a seasoned veteran on this squad and will be relied upon for leadership. Nicknamed "Jake", Anderson knows what he needs to do going into his sophomore season. "I'm just basically going to go out to do the same thing I did last year," Anderson said. "I'm going to try to involve my teammates a lot more this year, because the target is on my back this year. My teammates have been very helpful. Involving them a lot more will relieve a lot of pressure."
Anderson was named to the pre-season All-MAC team. Jake averaged a team-best 12.2 points and 2.6 assists per game last season. In Saturday's 76-62 exhibition win over Carthage College, Anderson led all scorers with 31 points.
Jake feels that he knows the keys to this season for NIU. "The biggest thing is taking care of each possession of the ball," Jake said. "We need to decrease our turnovers and apply a lot of defensive pressure."
Patton has big man Sean Kowal eligible this season after transferring in from Colorado and sitting out last year. Kowal will provide some much needed help in the paint. In Saturday's exhibition, Kowal scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Associate head coach Dennis Gates has helped put this team together and is responsible for bringing in newcomers like freshmen Mike DiNunno, Tyler Storm, Keith Smith, and Bryan Hall. "We have a lot of young guys that are energetic, hungry, and excited to play Coach Patton's brand of basketball," Gates said. "They are not afraid to make mistakes. They are not afraid to compete every day. That gives us a good chance of winning, because no matter what, they try to compete at the highest level."
Regardless of what happens this season, it is plain to see that Patton has the Huskies headed in the right direction. "Coach Patton is going to do something and change this program around," said Storm.
The Huskies open up the 2008-09 campaign versus Maine on November 14th at the 100 Club Classic in Kennesaw, Georgia.
They have a non-conference schedule that features perennial Missouri Valley power Southern Illinois coming to the Convocation Center on December 17th. The Huskies also host local schools Loyola and Chicago State in December. In the Great Alaska Shootout in November, the Huskies open with Portland State, who went to the NCAA tournament last year. They also travel to Tennessee State, a returning NCAA tournament team.
Patton feels that the varying styles that he will face in non-conference play will help his team prepare for the MAC schedule. "We're playing a caliber of schedule that I think will prepare our guys for different brands of basketball. I'm sure we will see quite a bit of man, we'll see some pressing, we'll see some zone defenses being played. So now when we get to midseason and get to our conference we should have seen every type of defense. We should have had to guard every type of offense that we're going to see in our conference."
Be sure to check out our premium bonus coverage in this interview with freshman guard Mike DiNunno…
DiNunno Looks to Make Impact at NIU
The early signing period for basketball begins on Wednesday, November, 12th and runs through the 19th. The Huskies have verbal commitments from Seton Academy's Tony Nixon and Bellevue, Washington center David Wink for the class of 2009. Nixon and teammate D.J. Cooper, who also will play in the MAC at Ohio University, have called a press conference at Seton Academy on the 12th for their signings.
Eligibility Issue for Dzepina
Ante Dzepina, a junior college transfer from Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois and a native of Croatia, is still waiting on foreign eligibility clearance from the NCAA.
Men's Schedule Getting Tougher
Patton said that two Big 10 teams are being added to next season's schedule. The Huskies will travel to Illinois and Minnesota.
NIU Women's Basketball Team
The Huskies are predicted to finish second in the MAC West in the league's pre-season poll. "I'm really excited about this team and this group of young ladies," said NIU coach Carol Owens. "One thing that sticks out is that we have depth that we haven't had since I've been here. The kids have been competitive, practice is more competitive. We can really get a lot out of what we're doing."
The Huskies are coming off a 10-18 (6-8) season that featured a number of injuries. "I think we'll be a lot better than we were last year as long as everybody stays healthy," Owens predicted.
NIU hopes to get their inside game going this season. "One statistic that stuck out to me is that we didn't have a lot of points in the paint," Owens recalled. "We've got to get the ball inside and our guards have got to get to the basket. We weren't getting to the free throw line as much. We were settling for jump shots. So, we're trying to be more of a balanced team from the inside and outside."
The Huskies tip-off their season on the 14th, when IUPUI comes calling to the Convocation Center.
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