NIU men’s basketball: Full-circle journey for Jordan Threloff


Jordan Threloff, men’s basketball redshirt senior center, shoots a free throw Saturday in the game against the Central Michigan Chippewas at the Convocation Center.

By Steve Shonder

Jordan Threloff, men’s basketball redshirt senior center, took the floor Tuesday for what will likely be the last time in his hometown of DeKalb, putting him at the end of a journey that has taken him through two schools and sent him overseas to Europe.

“It’s kind of a surreal thing,” Threloff said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. Just being able to play here has been such a privilege. … It’s been a lot of fun.”

After playing at DeKalb High School, Threloff played for the Illinois State Redbirds before returning to DeKalb to play for NIU. Since then he’s been one of the Huskies’ top players and has helped revitalize the men’s basketball program and turn it into one of the MAC’s more dangerous teams.

Discovering himself

Threloff’s three years at Illinois State were about getting out on his own for the first time. He said his time there made him who he is today, but he is glad he left.

“I was able to get away from home and kind of grow a little and realize what I need to become,” Threloff said. “I was able to play with some great players and against great teams.

“I would have grown differently [if I stayed at Illinois State]. I don’t think I would be as happy and successful as I am now if I would have stayed. If I could have changed anything, I probably would have come here a year earlier.”

Coming home

The biggest reason for Threloff’s return to DeKalb didn’t have anything to do with basketball. Midway through his third season with the Redbirds, the health of his mother, Edie Hartman, began to deteriorate. He returned home to help care for her before she died in July 2013.

“It was a difficult experience,” Threloff said. “It’s just amazing to have the support of the community and all my teammates and my coaches around here just to help me and keep me up.”

Dealing with a new school and a new team is one challenge, but losing his mother before the season started added to the challenges Threloff had to face.

“For a young man … he handled the adversity better than everyone I’ve ever been around,” said fourth-year head coach Mark Montgomery. “He had to adapt to the passing of his mother. He had to adapt to a new coaching staff, a new offense, a new defense.

“He’s always been a great kid. You have to take your hat off to him. Jordan has never at one time complained. All he does is put on his hard hat every day and goes to work. You have to respect that.”

Finding his groove

Over the summer, Threloff spent 10 days in Europe playing in the Global Sports Academy Goodwill European Tour. He credits the opportunity with helping to expand his game and letting him get a look at different ways of playing.

This season, he’s been one of the Huskies’ top defenders and has proven himself to be one of the best rebounders in the MAC, averaging 7.4 rebounds per game. He’s also been a solid shot blocker who the Huskies can count on in crunch time, as seen with his block in the final seconds of NIU’s 65-63 win Tuesday over the Western Michigan Broncos.

“No matter what, he’s a tough defender,” Montgomery said. “His awareness is uncanny, and he’s an unbelievable rebounder. He never gets enough credit.”

While his play has been up to par, Threloff was also one of only four Huskies who never missed a game during the season, which helped to sustain some consistency for the team as injuries took their toll throughout the year.

Leading the pack

Threloff also took on a leadership role, along with fellow redshirt senior Pete Rakocevic, to help redshirt freshman Marin Maric adapt to college basketball and to the American style of basketball after coming from Croatia. Maric said Threloff is like an older brother to him.

“It was kind of hard to adapt to the style of American basketball, but both of them gave me a lot of guidelines of how to act on the court and off the court because it’s just like different things coming from Europe over here,” Maric said. “Pete and Jordan helped me a lot, especially with veteran moves and things like that.”

Helping the team and his teammates is one of the goals Threloff had when he came to NIU, and he thinks he and his teammates succeeded in creating a close-knit team. He said the varied experiences of himself and his teammates who transferred in have helped to add to that cohesiveness.

“Mike [Orris] and Trae [Baker] and A.J. [Anthony Johnson] and those guys, we all come from different experiences and different places, and we’ve all kind of come together to create a team,” Threloff said.

While his days playing for the Huskies and in DeKalb are almost over, Threloff said he hopes to keep his basketball career going for as long as he can wherever he can. That might seem like a lofty goal given how many players are angling for the few roster spots there are, but Montgomery thinks Threloff’s headed there.

“He’s definitely going to be playing ball after college,” Montgomery said.