Men’s hoops set for new season

By Julian Nunnery

DeKALB — Basketball season is back as the team tips off its season at home against University of St. Francis, and there are several differences in personnel and play style from last year.

The Huskies lost seven players from their roster last year, including Marin Maric, who led the team in both points per game with 14.4 and rebounds with 8.4.

In addition to losing several players, there are also six new freshmen that must be acclimated to the team this year.

One of the most important changes from last year is there is only one senior on the roster in center Andrew Zelis, who missed the entire 2016-2017 season with a torn ACL. Zelis will be a leader for the team this year, but even so, leadership is going to have to come from the junior and sophomore members on the team as well.

Junior forwards Levi Bradley and Jaylen Key are two players that will take on significant leadership roles this year. Head Coach Mark Montgomery believes in both players and is confident they will take their games to another level this season.

“They are seasoned players,” Montgomery said. “That helps because all of a sudden when you start a drill, those two young men know exactly where to go. They bring their hard hats to every practice. I can see both of them ready to take the next step.”

A pair of sophomore guards in Eugene German and Justin Thomas will also have increased responsibilities on the team this year. German, who was named to the preseason All-Mac West team showed he is a prolific scorer down the stretch of the last year’s season, as he averaged over 16 points per game in the last nine games. Look for him to carry a large portion of the scoring load this year.

As the likely starting backcourt, Thomas understands he and German will need to work well together and have been getting accustomed to playing with each other for over a year.

“Me and Eugene used to talk about it all the time last year,” Thomas said. “How we can play together. We work out all the time with each other and push each other. He’s been a big help to me, and I know I’ve been a big help to him as well. We give each other tips on what we need to work on and things of that nature, so it’s good for both of us.”

Another Huskie to keep an eye on this season is junior forward Lacey James. Despite only being listed at 6 foot 9 inches and not having played with the team last year because of NCAA transfer rules, James will be the team’s starting center this season.

As his responsibilities for the team have completely flipped, James understands the team will count on him as a rebounder, rim protector and leader both physically and vocally.

“It’s a night and day difference,” James said. “It’s exciting for me. I have a bigger role especially as a five man  making sure the paint is secured, being the energy guy, cleaning up the boards and making sure that I am vocal down low.”

NIU will face non-conference opponents in Iowa State and Marquette, along with a talented Iowa team.

Tip-off for the game will be 7 p.m. Friday at the Convocation Center.