Hidden ready for lead role in new, Hammel-style play

By Wes Swietek

After being a key member of the NIU men’s basketball team’s supporting cast last year, Mike Hidden is ready and willing to assume a bigger role.

Hidden, a 6-5 wingman, played tough defense, hit the outside shot and otherwise did what was asked of him in support of NIU’s “stars” in 1990-91.

With the departure of the five seniors who helped NIU have its most successful men’s basketball season ever, Hidden, as the only returning starter, finds himself in a leadership role—whether he likes it or not.

“Being a leader came naturally in high school, but now it’s kind of hard,” Hidden said. “Coach (Brian Hammel) is telling me to be more vocal, but it doesn’t come naturally.

“I think all of the seniors are leaders, we’re all in it together—that’s what coach Hammel expects of us.”

Part of that leadership includes being the go-to guy in crucial situations, but Hidden said he’ll share that responsibility with his teammates.

“Any guy who’s playing good in a game will be the go-to guy for that game,” Hidden said. “The whole team will be the go-to guys, not like last year when we had to get the ball to “D-Train” (Donnell Thomas) or Donald (Whiteside) all the time.

“I wouldn’t mind being the go-to guy either, but it’s going to be more of a team effort this year.”

Last year, the senior started 24-of-31 games, averaged 6.2 points and shot 52 percent from 3-point range.

Those numbers are destined to grow as Hammel not only replaces Jim Molinari as head coach, but replaces his deliberate offense with a running attack.

“That suits me best of all,” Hidden said. “All my life I’ve been playing a running style. With the talent this year—all the guys can run.”

Matching last season’s 25-6 record, Mid-Continent Conference regular season title and first-ever NCAA at-large bid would seem an impossible task. But Hidden is optimistic.

“We have a goal to surprise a lot of teams. There are a lot of guys who were in the background last year who can play,” Hidden said. “We’ve got a lot of players ready to show their stuff.

“We also want to make it back to the NCAA—the same goal as last year. My personal goal is to beat (Wisconsin-)Green Bay. (The Huskies were 0-3 against the Phoenix last season). I think we’ve got a better chance this year,” Hidden said. “With our running game, we might score some easier baskets off them because of our style.”

That new offense is forcing Hidden to be more agressive on the court. “I’m changing my playing style almost 100 percent,” Hidden said. “But now, everyone has to be more aggressive.”