Michael Patton confident NIU will gel

By Chris Dertz

With tonight’s season opener against Northwestern University, the new-look NIU men’s basketball team will try to prove that it can be successful right away.

While the Huskies will depend heavily on a platoon of newcomers, seniors like guard Michael Patton will be looked to throughout the campaign to be leaders both on and off the court.

Patton recently took some time to sit down with the Northern Star to discuss the summer, incoming players and the opener against Northwestern.

Northern Star: So Michael, how’d the summer go for you guys?

Michael Patton: Summer was good. Had summer school, workouts, lifting, all of that good stuff. Did some hanging out with all of the guys. The new guys came in and did some summer classes, and that really helped for them to get to know the guys, and helps us become really close with a lot of the new guys.

NS: Coach [Ricardo] Patton talked about how the team is gelling pretty quickly, what have you seen?

MP: It’s been amazing. It’s a tremendous turnaround, especially with the things that happened in the offseason [with the departures of Mike DiNunno, Jake Anderson and Sean Kowal], that caused a lot of people to panic and speculate whether or not we were even going to win six games this year. So having these guys come in, with their willingness to learn, willingness to be coached and the tightness that this group has shown is really refreshing.

NS: For you personally, with everything that did happen in the offseason, how good does it feel to just get back to playing basketball?

MP: It feels amazing, you know? To hear the different questions being asked, friends calling saying ‘what’s going on?’ And students asking what’s going on, it’s just great to get back on the court.

NS: You’re entering your fourth year; what do you see as your role on this team?

MP: I think my biggest role has to be to lead; I have to bring it every day. I have to help teach these guys how to bring it every day. I’m really close with freshman point guard Kyree Jones, and that’s a great player and a great person. He went to six different high schools and was kind of considered a risk, so I’m just glad they took the risk. He’s a great dude, and has a chance to be really good.

NS: I’ve heard a lot about Jones, but never seen him play in person. Just how good of a scorer is he?

MP: He is a great scorer. When you have a guy who can shoot from the outside, and create his own shot, he’s going to be able to put the ball in the basket, and that’s what Kyree can do. He’s great off the pick-and-roll. He worked out with Fred Jones [former Indiana Pacer] this summer and you can kind of see how that has helped him, and how he is able to create for his teammates, and at the same time, create for himself.

NS: From what you’ve seen, where do you think this team has improved compared to what you saw a season ago?

MP: One thing I think people will see in our first game is our togetherness. The chemistry, and the willingness to hit the open guy; It’s amazing, but one of our problems in our scrimmages have been passing too much, just being too unselfish. That’s a problem you can easily fix. I also think that people will see that everyone has really improved. [Point guard] Bryan Hall had amazing improvements over the summer; he can really put the ball in the basket this year. Also, we’ve got to make sure we play defense.

NS: You’ve always been one of the solid defenders on this team; do you take it upon yourself to set that tone in practice?

MP: Every day, that’s my biggest goal. At practice every day, our practice is basically a defensive practice with a little bit of shooting and working on free throws, of course, but the rest of it is defense. When we’re going through those defensive drills, I try to go my hardest, just to let everyone know how important it really is. I’ve been doing it for three years, I can just go through the motions, but it is important, especially playing the likes of Missouri, Northwestern and Iowa State.

NS: How important is this Northwestern game to the program as a whole?

MP: I’m really looking forward to this Northwestern game. To have a Big Ten team in the Convocation Center, I think that’s, besides winning, what students and fans have been waiting for, to see a high-caliber team in there. The Boise State’s are cool, but to see the big-name schools, I think it’s a big step for our program.

NS: Especially with your history, having had Bradley and Temple both come in here, it didn’t really fill up the Convo, but maybe it’s just got to be from one of those major conferences.

MP: Exactly, and especially with them being in Illinois, NIU being a school with mostly Illinois students, I think that is just going to be huge. Regardless if you’re a sports fan, you know about Northwestern.