NIU men’s basketball: Armsteads enjoy final go-around

By Steve Shonder

Senior Aaron Armstead and sophomore Aaric Armstead have been playing together since birth, but that will end as the men’s basketball season draws to a close.

While the brothers will probably still play together in pick-up games, Aaron’s impending graduation marks the end of an era for them; however, they’re looking forward to what comes next.

“There is [more significance] for the simple fact that it is our last year playing together, but we’ve played together literally our entire life,” Aaric said. “So, it’s like, we’re familiar with this. It’s been like this for a while, and we’re both ready for the new roads ahead. But, it is the last time we’ll be playing together.”

They know how to end things on the right note: During Aaron’s senior season at Hales Franciscan High School, they were key players on the 2011 Illinois Class 2A State Championship team. While winning the NCAA national championship this season is a pipe dream, they’re looking to make sure this season ends on another high note.

“That is 100 percent required,” Aaric said. “We expect nothing less, but we know we have a lot of work to do with our team. It’s a team effort. Our entire team knows that everybody wants to make it to the postseason, and that’s the goal.”


While there’s not much of a brotherly rivalry now that the Armsteads no longer go head-to-head in the backyard, they still push each other to strive for greatness on the court. Aaric called Aaron his “hardest critic.”

After high school, they went their separate ways with Aaron going to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Aaric heading to La Jolla Prep Basketball Academy in San Diego after his senior season of high school ball.

With things not working out in Green Bay, Aaron went out west to play at San Jose City College. A turn of events led the brothers to NIU, where they’ve since relished the opportunity to play together.

“It’s been great getting back to it,” Aaron said. “I played with him all through high school. We’ve just got that good chemistry. We play off each other well.”

The first year with the Huskies, 2013-14, was successful for the Armstead brothers with both of them in the team’s top-five point scorers and helping the Huskies burst into the second round of the MAC Tournament. Aaron scored 218 points while averaging 6.8 points per game. Aaric scored 232 points and averaged 7.7 points per game on his way to a spot on the MAC All-Freshman Team.

Their arrivals, along with an influx of other players, pushed the Huskies to their single biggest win turnaround, winning 15 games after only picking up five victories the season before. But, this year has been a bit more of a struggle: NIU has gone 4-7 in MAC play after opening the season 6-5 in non-conference games.

Even so, Aaron and Aaric have been key contributors. Aaric leads the team in minutes played (578) and is averaging a team-best 11.1 points per game. Aaron, in a bench role, leads NIU in 3-point shooting at 41.8 percent.

“They’re great teammates, not to just themselves, but to the overall team,” said head coach Mark Montgomery. “They play unselfish. They’re both capable scorers. They defend hard. They rebound. I just like their positive attitude and the energy and effort they bring every day in practice.”

Aaron’s college experience has helped Aaric forge his own path, as he’s learned from what his brother has gone through on his way to NIU, and it’s helped him develop on and off the court. It’s softened the learning curve for Aaric as Aaron said he has filled his brother in on how to deal with coaches, teammates and how to interact with them at the college level.

“Playing college basketball, it just relays over to me,” Aaric said. “He tells me the things that he’s been through. I know some of the things he’s been through. I haven’t experienced them exactly, but just knowing certain things will go a certain way at different times — being prepared for anything and trying to just play as well as you can in different situations.”


With the Huskies at 4-7 in conference play and only seven regular season games left, Aaron and Aaric know they’re going to have to stay focused on winning and executing on the floor if they want to stretch this season into a MAC Tournament run.

“I feel like I just have to keep playing hard,” Aaron said. “It’s not so much the things that I have to work on as it’s things that I feel like I have to keep doing well and pick up on a little bit more. I want to go out with a bang. I want to go out playing the best I can and help the team get wins.”

With few people getting a chance to play college basketball, it’s rare for a pair of brothers to play on the same team. After nearly two decades of playing together, Aaron and Aaric know how much it means to them.

“For my entire life we played together, and to think we played together in college, is kind of unreal,” Aaric said. “I love it.”