Basketball switches up style in coming season


Freshman Daveon Balls dribbles the ball in the game against Eastern Illinois University in February.

By Brian Earle

Men’s basketball will have a different look to it this season based on changes to its roster and style of play.

The Huskies lost their leading scorer from the last two seasons, Abdel Nader, who transferred to Iowa State. For the Huskies, it’s not about what they lost; it’s about what they gained and the depth they have this season.

“This is a very, very competitive group,” said head coach Mark Montgomery. “This is the first year that we’ve had unbelievable depth. We’re practicing with 16 players on the roster right now … running drill to drill, it doesn’t matter if it’s a one-on-one drill, a two-on-two, all the way to five-on-five, you see different teams and different individuals that are ready to get after it and ready to win and ready to compete, and that’s big.”

The Huskies bring in seven newcomers, a mix of transfers and freshmen who are expected to bring experience as well as play big minutes. The biggest thing the Huskies receive from their newcomers is, no pun intended, size.

Redshirt junior center Jordan Threloff, who transferred from Illinois State, gives the Huskies an inside presence they have been looking for. The DeKalb native comes in at 6-foot-9 and will be a true center for the Huskies. After sitting out last season following transferring from Sacramento State, redshirt junior center Pete Rakocevic is eligible to play this season. Rakocevic stands at 6-foot-11 and will provide the Huskies with another strong center.

“So now we have size and some girth and some meat, per say, inside, and that is welcome,” Montgomery said. “We’re looking forward to pounding the ball inside to those big guys, and we shouldn’t finish last in blocks or altered shots in the paint.”

With those two additions solidifying the center position, junior forwards Keith and Kevin Gray will be able to assume their natural spots at the power forward position. The Huskies also get two forward starters back from last season in senior Aksel Bolin and sophomore Darrell Bowie. Bolin was the team’s high scorer last season, averaging 7.4 points per game while Bowie scored 5.9 points per game.

Like it was last season, there will be competition at the point guard position with sophomores Travon Baker and Daveon Balls returning. In addition to Baker and Balls, sophomore guard Michael Orris, a transfer from Kansas State, is expected to be in the mix at the point guard position.

The biggest thing Montgomery is focused on going into the season is the Huskies’ play down the stretch. He wants to see the Huskies make enough plays to win the close games.

“I think our biggest challenge this year with this group is finding a way to finish games,” Montgomery said. “I look back at last year, where you have seven games where you lose by five or less points. So now it’s a new year, we have to figure out a way to win close games.

“We’re doing different things in practice, we’re putting them through different scenarios, we’re looking at different video opportunities when we can to get our guys ready to finish games, finish halves and finish possessions.”