Top-5 men’s basketball players to watch

By Julian Nunnery

After getting bounced in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Championship last season, the men’s basketball team looks to improve from an up-and-down campaign last season.

Last year, the Huskies finished 15-17 but were never able to find a rhythm throughout the season.

The Huskies lost a few key players to graduation or transferring, including Marin Maric, Aaric Armstead and Dontel Highsmith.

Here’s a look at some players who need to play well for the team to right the ship from last season.


5. Redshirt senior center Andrew Zelis

Fifth-year redshirt senior Andrew Zelis has had quite an interesting collegiate basketball career. After being nominated for the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Game, Zelis has played for three different universities during his five year run at college basketball.

Zelis saw limited playing when he first came to NIU two years ago and missed the entire 2016-17 season with a torn ACL. Now fully recovered, Zelis is primed to most likely start at the center position for the Huskies this season.

At seven feet tall, he seems to be one of the only legitimate low post threats for the team. Look for Zelis to possibly lead the team in rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage this season.


4. Sophomore guard Justin Thomas

Sophomore guard Justin Thomas will need to improve in multiple areas but could be an important contributor for NIU this season.

In a moderate average of 17 minutes per game last year, Thomas managed only about four points and one assist per game. Where he really struggled was at the free throw line where he shot a team low .576 percent.

Thomas was inserted as the starting point guard after Head Coach Mark Montgomery’s frustrations with Laytwan Porter, who parted ways with the team last season.

Thomas is a smaller guard but is a good ball handler with exceptional speed and quickness. In what could be a primary ball handling role for Thomas this season, he will need to improve his facilitating abilities and make himself more of an offensive threat in order to provide a solid contribution to the team.


3. Junior Forward Levi Bradley

Another important piece for the Huskies this season will be junior forward Levi Bradley. Bradley averaged slightly better numbers than Key last season with nine points and four rebounds but doesn’t possess quite the same athletic abilities.

Montgomery announced Bradley will be a starter to begin the season.

Bradley proved to be the team’s most dependable free throw shooter last year, as he shot 77 percent from the free throw line and got there a good amount.

Standing at 6 feet, 7 inches, Bradley is another long forward that should be able to defend multiple positions well while on the floor. However, he will need to improve his shooting as the season progresses.


2. Junior forward Jaylen Key

Junior forward Jaylen Key will also likely have a large impact on the team this year.

Unfortunately for Key and the Huskies, he is out with injury, and Montgomery hopes for him to return by January.

As a sophomore, Key averaged eight points and four rebounds per game. He also averaged the highest three point field goal percentage at .464 and the second highest field goal percentage at .488.

Key will be one of the more versatile players for the team this season. With his long frame and ability to play both inside and out, he may need to be a key contributor for the Huskies to be successful this season.


1. Sophomore guard Eugene German

Sophomore guard Eugene German will, without question, be the biggest impact player for the Huskies this season.

To put it simply, German is a pure scorer. Even with his small size, he still has the ability to slash to the basket and finish strong with either hand. He also has improved his shooting touch, particularly behind the three point line.

German averaged a considerably moderate nine points per game last season in what was, for the most part, a limited bench role. This season, look for him to both lead the team in scoring average and be the consistent go-to scoring option.