It’s take-two time for Rosborough

By Jeff Kirik

Second-year coach Jim Rosborough has a different team with a different look this season, but now all he wants is different results.

The NIU men’s basketball team struggled through last season with on- and off-court problems, finishing with a weak 9-19 record. However, with the addition of seven freshmen and the return of four senior leaders to this year’s edition, Rosborough expects a much improved, less turbulent year.

“There’s a totally different atmosphere here compared to a year ago.” he said. “I’m very optimistic about what could happen to this group. I think they are desperately wanting to have success.

“The older kids want it because they haven’t tasted much success. The younger kids all come from winning programs – they don’t know anything else.”

One of the players Rosborough is most optimistic about is Rodney Davis. As a 6-foot-3 point guard, the senior led the team in a number of categories last season, including scoring with his 14.5 points-per-game average. He wasn’t the only scoring threat on the team though. Center John Culbertson and forward Mike Grabner return after tying for second on the squad with 11.8 ppg. The other senior, 6-foot-3 guard Randy Norman, used outside bombs to rack up 11.0 ppg.

Davis, Culbertson and Grabner have recaptured their starting spots, while Norman is locked in a three-way battle with sophomore Brett Andricks and freshman Jo Jo Jackson for the off guard position. It appears Andricks will get the call when NIU takes on Beloit College Nov. 27.

“In truth, the four seniors have done a good job (in practice),” Rosborough said. “I really think because they are so hungry to win, they have been good leaders.”

The veterans do return, but the new faces are what has Rosborough excited. Donnell Thomas, Jackson, Donald Whiteside, Andrew Wells, Stacy Arrington, Brian Banks and Dave Pygon combine to make what the Huskie staff thinks could be an immediate-impact freshman class.

Thomas appeared to crack the starting lineup immediately when fall practice began. The 6-foot-4uu-inch forward impressed the coaching staff with his rebounding, defense and strong inside offensive game.

“Donnell will start,” Rosborough said. “He’s earned it. He’s tough. He’s a good rebounder—just a very good player.”

Jackson, Whiteside, Arrington and junior Kendall Jones give added strength to an already sturdy backcourt. Banks and Wells, a pair of 6-foot-7 forwards, along with sophomores Tom Sellers Matt Hardy add bench strength to the Huskie inside arsenal.

Rosborough will have to mend the major problem with last year’s team—a porous defense. The team gave up 80.4 ppg last season compared to the 75.8 ppg it averaged. It also allowed 100 points in a game on three separate occasions.

To patch the hole in the NIU defensive game, Rosborough and assistant coach Robert Collins spent more time stressing that phase of the game during practice. Rosborough said he also plans to use more full court pressure.

“I think man (-to-man) will be our primary defense, although the kids like the zone and they play it well,” he said.

The defense was worst when the Huskies were away from home last season as indicated by their 0-11 record and 88.5 ppg allowed on the road.

The team, as usual, was much more successful at Chick Evans Field House where it finished 8-3. Rosborough also made sure that fewer home games would be played at the Rockford MetroCentre where NIU went 0-4 last season. Only one game will be played at that site this year, a Dec. 13 contest against Bradley.

Offensively, Rosborough said the team will play more run-and-gun ball because of the addition of the freshmen athletes.

When asked to briefly describe his team and its style of play Rosborough said, “Up-tempo, pressure offensively and defensively, unselfish, highly motivated and hungry.”