D-Train puts hoop squad on right track

By Jeff Kirik

Most college basketball coaches would fear losing five of their top six scorers and starting a season with one junior and no seniors.

Third-year Huskie coach Jim Rosborough is in that situation, but instead of looking to the 1988-89 season with apprehension, he prefers to look at the season as a fresh start.

Of the 12 players Rosborough will guide into the upcoming season, one will be a junior, seven will be sophomores and four will be freshmen. But then again, even with the four seniors and a sophomore he lost after last season, the Huskies could only compile a two-season 17-39 record.

“I’m as excited right now about this program as I have been since I was hired,” Rosborough said. “I would say the athletic talent here is as good as any team since the Jim Bradley era as far as overall depth and talent are concerned.”

When you talk about talent on the NIU team you have to start with sophomore forward Donnell Thomas. At 6-foot-4, the D-Train led the 8-20 Huskies in rebounding with 8.5 boards per game last season in setting a school record in that department for freshmen. Thomas also pulled his share of the Huskie scoring load, averaging 11.5 points a game, good for third on the team. No other returning player averaged more than 5 points per contest last season.

“Donnell Thomas had a great year last year but he can do better,” said Rosborough, adding that Thomas’ defense could improve.

After Thomas, there is talent, but there also is a lack of experience. Two examples of this are point guard Donald Whiteside and center Antwon Harmon. Both are sophomores, yet between them they have only 13 games of college action.

Whiteside, a co-captain along with Thomas, is considered a key player this season by Rosborough, even though the 5-foot-9 minijet missed a large portion of last season because of academic ineligibility. Thomas will look for some rebounding help from the 6-foot-8 Harmon, who missed the entire 1987-88 season after falling victim to Proposition 48.

The rest of the Huskies seem to be carbon copies of Harmon and Whiteside—ability, but little experience.

A pair of 6-foot-6 sophomore forwards, Brian Banks and Andrew Wells, return to try to improve NIU’s inside game. Banks, who Rosborough called last year’s most improved player, could become more of a factor if he gains some weight and improves his rebounding. In Wells the Huskies have a rebounder who can jump through the ceiling. However, Wells needs to become a more consistent scorer.

Also helping out inside will be freshman center Brent Varner, freshman forwards Randy Fens and Mike Hidden and the team’s lone upperclassman Matt Hardy.

The NIU guard corps will have to cut down on the turnovers to be effective. Jo Jo “Sky” Jackson, an off guard who puts on an air show in pregame warmups, is the team’s second returning scorer after last year’s 4.3 points-per-game performance. Jackson should split time with sophomore Stacy Arrington and Hidden at the big guard position, while freshman Marcus Coty and Whiteside will handle most of the point guard responsibilities.

Rosborough said he is excited about NIU’s 1988-89 schedule, even though for the third year in a row the Huskies enter the season as an independent.

“It’s a heck of a schedule. Anybody who’s not excited about it doesn’t know what we went through to put it together,” Rosborough said.

The 28-game ledger features midseason home games against Minnesota, Rice and Iona, and the Huskies’ second consecutive appearance in the Illinois-Chicago McLendon Classic.