‘Big Three’ strive to lead by example for Huskies in ‘89; Thomas sets style

By Thom Gippert

When Jim Molinari took the head coaching job at NIU, he didn’t find the cupboards totally empty.

Since “Coach Mo” has taken the reigns at NIU, there have been three players the rookie head coach has been able to lean on.

Donald Whiteside, Donnell Thomas and Antwon Harmon have established themselves as the backbone of this year’s Huskie unit. Those players could be labeled the “Big Three,” but expansion might be on the way.

While Molinari indicated that the “Big Three” established themselves in conditioning and early practices, Molinari was quick to expand that group to four with the addition of Stacy Arrington.

Each player is different and all of their talents mixed together could produce quite a powerful potion.

Whiteside is the diminutive point guard who is quick, rugged and primed for the clutch opportunity.

Thomas, known in NIU basketball circles as the “D-Train”, is the Charles Barkley-clone who makes up for his 6-4 frame with toughness and aggressive prowess underneath the bucket.

Harmon is the quick, but somewhat thin, center who uses his jumping ability to compensate underneath.

And Arrington is the off-guard who has the sweet touch from the outside and can also be an effective ballhandler at the point, when needed.

The only thing that is holding Arrington back from being put in that group, according to Molinari, is the defensive effort put forth on the court.

“Those three have done the best job in pre-season; they’ve worked the hardest in conditioning. They were the ones who have been most dependable,” Molinari said.

Coming off of last year, the two main threats for NIU seem to be Thomas and Whiteside.

“Donald has played extremely well so far; he’s really tried to assume the role I want from him, which has been different in the past and he’s done a very good job. He’s more of a play-maker now—he might not score as many points, but he’s doing a lot of other things,” Molinari said.

At 5-10, Whiteside can create and run the break as well as score and dish off. Last season, the junior from Chicago averaged 15 points per game and handed out 106 assists, many of which went to Thomas.

“Donnell works extremely hard. He has been productive scoring and I think the thing we keep in front of Donnell if were going to be a really good team is that he’s going to make the adjusment outside defensivly on the perimeter. Donnell just goes to war for you every night,” Molinari summed up on the junior from Robeson High School in Chicago.

“D-Train” is listed as making Street and Smith’s First-Team All-Independent pre-season squad after posting outstanding numbers last season. Thomas averaged 18 points per game and cleared nine rebounds a contest last year, with a single-game high of 20 boards against Illinois-Chicago.

Last season Thomas lead the Huskies in free-throws, free-throw attempts, rebounds, points and minutes to name just a few of his accomplishments.

For Harmon, the 6-7 junior has been slowed in pre-season and Molinari thinks confidence and added weight would help the progress of the Hyde Park High School graduate.

“Antwon has not played as well as he wants to play. I think Antwon looks fatigued and we hope to put some weight back on and get his confidence back up. He hasn’t hit his jump shot early, and when a shooter doesn’t hit his first shot, sometimes they lose their confidence,” Molinari said of the 190 pounder.

Arrington could be a major factor for the Huskies before it’s all said and done, and Molinari said he is seeing improvement in the 6-3 guard from Chicago’s Calumet High School.

“I’ve told Stacey that his minutes will be determined by his effort on the defensive end and he’s starting to understand that all I want for him is to use that talent he has to the best of his ability,” Molinari said.

In summing up his “Big Three,” Molinari said he will lean on them the hardest throughout the season.

“Those guys are the ones we’re looking to and I think Stacey has grown not only as a basketball player but as a person,” Molinari said.