Endless waves rock NIU ship

By Jim Wozniak

Arrests, ineligibility, players quitting add to losing woes

When a basketball team gives up five more points a game than it scores, the immediate outlook is somewhat cloudy.

When a star player transfers to another school, another player quits, two players become academically ineligible and a fight breaks out between players resulting in arrests, suspensions and surgery, the crystal ball reveals an even more muddled situation.

The 1986-87 men’s basketball season was a year in which NIU was saddled with the above incidents. It also marked the coaching debut of Jim Rosborough. The final tally in the history books was a 9-19 record in the Huskies’ first year as an independent after leaving the Mid-American Conference.

“With the people that we had and what we were given, I think we did as well as we could,” said Rosborough. “I’m not pleased at all with our record. I’m not pleased with our defense. (But) I think we made improvement. One thing is if the players thought we (the coaching staff) were demanding this year, it will be more demanding next year.”

NIU’s defensive problems resulted in giving up an average of 80.4 points per game. Western Michigan, Toledo and Ball State all scored more than 100 points on the Huskies, as opponents scored 80 or more points 14 times. The troubles worsened as the season progressed and NIU spent more time on the road.

“It (the defense) just stunk all year,” said NIU forward Mike Grabner. “We gave up 80 points, which is lousy. More people were worried about scoring because offense is more fun.”

“I don’t think there’s been a defensive attitude at this institution,” Rosborough said, pointing out reasons for the defensive slide. “Two, I don’t think the players care a great deal about defense. Three, I don’t think we had a great deal of leverage as a coaching staff who to play. Four, we are going to have to stress certain aspects of defense.”

osborough did not have leverage because of the off-court dramas that plagued the team throughout the season. Forward Kenny Battle, who starred at NIU for two years, transferred to Illinois after the 1985-86 season. Then before the ‘86-87 campaign began, guard Daron White quit the team because he said he was dissatisfied with the amount of playing time he would have received.

Toward midseason, the other events unfolded. Forward Jim Edmondson, who later became academically ineligible, was arrested after allegedly punching teammate Tom Sellers in the jaw. Sellers and center Scott Sullivan were playfully throwing ice packs at each other when one of the packs hit Edmondson, Rosborough said. Sellers suffered a broken jaw and needed surgery. He missed nearly seven weeks. Edmondson and Sullivan were suspended for two games for their parts in the incident.

Guard Jerry Williams was the other Huskie to go down when he became ineligible. With all of these problems, NIU had, at most, 11 players available the rest of the year.

“That really did hurt us,” said guard Brett Andricks. “Whenever someone got in foul trouble, he (Rosborough) was reluctant to go to the bench.”

Offense was a bright spot for NIU. The Huskies scored 75.8 ppg., which more than compensated for the loss of Battle’s 19.6 ppg. from the previous year. In fact, NIU averaged three more ppg. than the ’85-86 team. Five players had scoring averages in double figures, the leading scorer being Rodney Davis with 14.5 ppg.

“I had no question based on the system we run, we were going to score points,” said Rosborough. “The kids picked up our system very well.”

“We have guys who can score inside and outside,” said guard Randy Norman. “A team is always going to score. Later on in the season we picked up our fast break.”

The other thing NIU had on its side was winning eight of 11 games on its on-campus home court, Chick Evans Field House. The Huskies were 0-4 at their other home court, the Rockford MetroCentre, although they played some of their tougher opponents there. NIU was 1-1 on neutral courts, but as has been the case in recent years, the Huskies were feeble on the road, finishing 0-11.

With the first year of Rosborough’s reign over, Rosborough said he and his troops are working toward the fall and the beginning of another year. Rosborough had the players on a spring regiment, including work on the netted toss-backs which allow players to catch their own passes and work on their shooting. Plus, Rosborough said some of the players will play over the summer.

In addition, plenty of new faces are coming to the squad. Rosborough signed four players last November, but Antwon Harmon might not meet Proposition 48 requirements. The requirements are now flexible around an eventual standard of at least a 2.0 GPA and minimum scores on the ACT and SAT of 15 and 700, respectively. Expected to make it are Donnell Thomas, a First Team All-Public League pick by the Chicago Sun-Times; Brian Banks, selected 72nd among high school players in the nation by David Bones’ scouting service; and Jo Jo Jackson.

osborough also signed Stacy Arrington from Calumet High School and Donald Whiteside from Leo High School in the postseason signing period. He also would like to have Andrew Wells on the team, but Wells, who missed last year by falling short of Proposition 48, has to meet the academic requirements to be eligible in the fall.

“These guys (the returnees) know they have some guys (recruits) behind them, but they have the advantage of being here,” said Rosborough. “If the underclassman and the senior are equal (talent-wise), I’d say the senior has the advantage. I’d say those five kids (recruits) will have more impact and add some depth.”

NIU’s schedule this winter includes small schools like Central Connecticut State but also includes Southern Illinois, Kansas State, Wisconsin and Bradley.