Still too early to give up on NIU basketball team

By Mike Morrise

I don’t usually like to comment on arguable issues. It is much easier to just nod my head, keep my mouth shut and smile when people say things I don’t necessarily agree with.

But there comes a time when you have to decide to either take a stand or a backseat. And this is one of those times. So, slide over and let me drive awhile.

First of all, let me say I like some of what I’ve seen of the NIU men’s basketball team so far this season. Surprised? Don’t be. It isn’t readily apparent in the win-loss column—I know they’re 4-11. And it isn’t necessarily something as spectacular as a Kenny Battle slam dunk.

(Sorry, I didn’t mean to conjure up bad memories. But I am one of the precious few who believe there is life after what’s-his-name.)

But, as I see it, NIU has a team composed mainly of 19- and 20-year-olds: three freshmen, six sophomores and two junior transfers. They couldn’t own more than three or four razors among them. Which means, (to borrow a line from coach Rosborough) “for those of you who can see past the end of your nose,” these guys have two and three years left at this institution. They’ve just begun to mature as collegiate athletes.

And while they’re not exactly setting the world on fire at the moment, they have shown some promise. Remember, they’re freshmen and sophomores. Yesterday, they were asking girls to the prom. And today we are supposed to expect them to beat Minnesota? Nebraska? Southern Illinois?

Minnesota, at 9-4, has beaten No. 5 Iowa. The Gophers aren’t great. But good? Yes. Nebraska is 11-6. SIU is 13-3. The 10 teams NIU has lost to have a combined record of 79-64. Sixty-nine other schools have lost to these teams.

Most schools expect their freshman basketball players to learn the school fight song and not much else their first year. NIU’s frosh are averaging over 13 minutes a game off the bench. And while they aren’t contributing much more than locker room body odor at the moment, they are way ahead of most freshmen in college game experience.

As for our sophomores, they’re all either starting or have started at one time this season. I know of no school in the nation, besides NIU, that starts five sophomores.

Power forward Donnell Thomas plays basketball like Mike Tyson plays pattycake—for keeps. What more do you need to say about a guy who, at 6-foot-4, led the nation for freshmen independents in rebounding last year?

Point guard Donald Whiteside has twice tied the school record for 3-pointers in a game and will easily shatter the school record for 3-pointers in a season this year. He’s a sophomore. Behind him is Marcus Coty who was second in the nation in 3-point percentage (.769) three games into the season before falling off to a mere .514. He’s a freshman.

I’m done. Decide for yourself.