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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

COLUMN: Underachieving Huskies wrecked by transfer portal

Ryanne Sandifer
Redshirt sophomore guard Zion Russell passes the ball in an NIU men’s basketball home game against the University at Buffalo on Feb. 13. Russell is among seven Huskies that have entered the transfer portal since the end of the 2023-24 season. (Ryanne Sandifer | Northern Star)

Senior guard Keshawn Williams and junior guard David Coit are the newest former Huskies to enter the transfer portal. The Huskies’ two most recent leading scorers join junior guard Zarique Nutter, redshirt sophomore guard Zion Russell, sophomore forward Xavier Amos, sophomore forward Yanic Konan Niederhauser and freshman guard Will Lovings-Watts in the transfer portal. 

With Coit’s intent to transfer, the Huskies have now lost their leading scorer from the 2023-24 season and their top-five total point scorers from last season via the portal. All of which made at least 12 starts in the 2023-24 season and still had multiple years of college eligibility remaining. 

Williams, who missed all but one game of the 2023-24 season, was the Huskies’ leading scorer in 2022-23 before an ACL tear ended his season prematurely. The Chicago Heights, Illinois, native also led NIU in scoring in the 2021-22 season.

While NIU men’s basketball has never been harmed as badly as it has this season by the transfer portal, losing talent via the portal has been an issue for the Huskies for the past few seasons. 

After the 2022-23 season, the Huskies’ lost three key contributors in guard Kaleb Thornton, forward Anthony Crump and guard Darweshi Hunter. Thornton was the Huskies’ top assist man, Crump led the Huskies in rebounds and Hunter was NIU’s most efficient three-point shooter. 

All three players left NIU for rival MAC schools after 2022-23.

The Huskies won just nine games in the 2021-22 season and were able to retain Williams, Crump, Thornton and Hunter but lost guard Trendon Hankerson. Hankerson started all 30 games for the Huskies and finished second in the MAC in steals per game in 2021-22 before leaving for the MAC-rival University of Akron Zips. 


I believe the biggest reason NIU men’s basketball has been unable to keep much of their talent in DeKalb has been the amount of injuries the team has suffered over the past few seasons. 

Williams’ injury in 2022-23 left the Huskies without their leading scorer for the final 16 games of conference play. This required players like Coit and Nutter to take over the majority of the scoring duties midseason.

While the duo did enough to help the Huskies reach the MAC Tournament, NIU simply did not have other reliable scoring options to truly compete for a MAC title. The Huskies lost 76-57 to the Kent State University Golden Flashes in the first round of the 2023 MAC Tournament.

The Huskies were hit by the injury bug even harder in 2023-24, as Russell was the only player to appear in all 31 games. 

Nutter, Amos and senior guard Philmon Gebrewhit, who all started in the Huskies’ first game of the season, missed several games down the stretch of conference play. These injuries and more caused less experienced players to have to play key minutes during the back half of the MAC schedule.


During NIU men’s basketball head coach Rashon Burno’s three years at NIU, the Huskies are yet to have an overall winning record or a conference winning record. The closest they came was in 2022-23, finishing 13-19 overall and 9-9 in the MAC. 

While the Huskies went just 11-20 overall and 5-13 in the MAC last season, I would argue that this roster was actually the most talented team of the Burno era, but underachieved.

Coit and Nutter were once again the leading scorers of the team, each increasing their points per game from the previous year. 

Konan Niederhauser made the jump from a bench player in 2022-23 to a regular starter in 2023-24. While a healthy Amos emerged as the Huskies third-best scoring option and one of the Huskies most efficient three-point shooters after missing almost the entirety of the 2022-23 season.

The Huskies also added talented newcomers in Lovings-Watts, Gebrewhit and sophomore forward Ethan Butler after the 2022-23 season. Despite the emergence of returning players and the addition of new players, the Huskies started MAC play 0-8. 

NIU had the talent to compete through the first eight games of conference play but was unable to put a complete game together. The Huskies lost two overtime games, were outscored in the second half by double digits in three games and were outscored in the first half by double digits in three games. 

Despite a three-game MAC win streak following their 0-8 start, the Huskies’ dug themselves too deep of a hole to salvage a competitive MAC season. After the three-game win streak, the injuries began to pile for NIU, ending any hope of a miraculous run to the MAC Tournament.

Because of the inability to stay healthy and the underachieving ways of the Burno era, the Huskies have been unable to retain their most talented players.

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