NIU, Lithuanian coach a world apart

By Gregory Janicki

The NIU men’s basketball season opener paired two coaches who are used to different forms of pressure.

Huskie head coach Brian Hammel faces the task of putting together a winning team in his first season at the helm. This is not any easy task, especially after NIU lost five seniors from last year’s squad.

But Hammel is not the least bit pessimistic about his team, even after losing to a Lithuanian club team 92-91 Tuesday night at Chick Evans Field House.

“Obviously we’re disappointed about the loss,” said Hammel. “But we were more involved in seeing what combinations would work best. Overall, it was a great game for us team-wise and individually.”

The Huskies came out of the gate in a hurry, pushing the ball up the court and using little time to shoot. The result was a 50-45 halftime lead.

But NIU shot only 38 percent from the floor in the second half, including a dismal 3-of-12 from the three-point line. The poor shooting allowed Lithuania to stay in the game.

Hammel was not upset by the shot percentage and explained that shooting is what they intend to work on.

“We tell our guys, ‘if you’re open and you think you can make it, then shoot the ball. Otherwise you’ll be out of the game.'”

In all, Hammel was pleased with the performance of his team, particularly freshmen Marlin Simms and Hubert Register.

“Those guys took two giant steps tonight,” said Hammel. “I think they played with poise and enthusiasm the entire time they were in there.”

On the other side of the scorer’s table, Lithuanian head coach Modestas Paulauskas sees the game in a different light.

“We’ve played six games in the past six days,” said Paulauskas through the use of a translator. “After games, we travel almost four or five hours in a bus.”

The Lithuanian club, Zalgiris, is originally from the city of Kaunas. It is currently touring the United States, taking on various colleges and universities throughout the nation.

“Compared to other schools we’ve faced so far,” said Paulauskas, “Northern Illinois is about the same as all the rest. Maybe three are better and three are the same.”

Paulauskas has been a part of international competition since 1965 when he was a member of the Soviet Union national team. He served as captain of the squad that captured the gold medal against the United States in the 1972 Olympic Games.

“I don’t know who won that game that day,” said Paulauskas, “but the Soviet Union was awarded the gold medal.”