Meet Rob Judson

By Nick Gerts and Matt Stacionis

CHICAGO — The future of the NIU basketball program has gotten a whole lot brighter.

As expected, NIU announced Rob Judson as the new head basketball coach at a 1:30 p.m. press conference Tuesday. Reports by nearly every medium that covers the Huskies had already labeled the University of Illinois assistant as NIU’s head coach Monday.

The 43-year-old coach said he wanted the job was because of the tradition NIU men’s basketball carries, going back to the Jim Bradley era and extending to the recent T.J. Lux era. Judson said he believes that new direction can help the Huskies build an even better tradition. But to do that, the Huskies will need the help of the students, faculty, alumni and media.

“We have a unique challenge in front of us at Northern Illinois University,” Judson said. “Building on past achievements and tradition, we will strive for future excellence that will advance NIU boldly into its second century of competition. There is no doubt in my mind that we will be successful with our basketball program. The one thing that I have learned in all my years of coaching is that good players make up good basketball programs.”

Judson becomes the Huskies’ 25th head coach, replacing interim coach Andy Greer, who replaced Brian Hammel after Hammel resigned Dec. 6 because of stress. Judson served as an assistant at NIU during the 1990-91 season.

“He’s a tireless worker,” Atlanta Hawks head coach Lon Krueger, a former Illinois head coach, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “He is an outstanding person and very knowledgeable. He’s a big part of that group at Illinois, and I know he’s going to carry that over to Northern Illinois.”

Illinois is ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press poll, while NIU ended its most losing season ever with an 89-57 loss to Ball State in the opening round of the Mid-American Conference tournament Monday night.

Judson signed a five-year deal and will start the day after the Illini end their run in the NCAA tournament.

NIU athletic director Cary Groth said the Huskies were looking at three other coaching candidates in case Judson turned NIU down. Groth would not name them.

“I told the candidates that I was not going to make it public” she said. “I am doing that because they didn’t publically let everyone know that they were interested in the job.”

NIU President John Peters said he knew Judson was a must for the Huskies the first time he met him. After talking to people across the country, Peters kept hearing Judson’s name as the guy who met NIU’s criteria perfectly.

“Just the way he approaches the game is unbelievable,” Peters said. “There is a good chemistry there. I’ve been around some big-name coaches, and there is a way they carry themselves and a way they talk, and you can’t teach that. He’s got that. He exudes confidence. He’s going to be a developer of character in the players, and they are going to be well-coached.”

Judson said to be successful, four goals must be placed.

First, he wants all his basketball players to graduate. Secondly, he wants to continue the institutional integrity. Then he wants to win MAC championships, which would lead to postseason tournaments, the final goal. To get to the last two goals, Judson seeks to build a harder non-conference schedule that includes teams from the Big 10, the Big 12 and intrastate teams.

“The commitment is there,” Judson said. “The leadership from Peters, Cary Groth and Robert Collins is strong. Make no mistake, Peters and I share the same vision for Northern Illinois University and Huskie basketball. And as Peters said at his inaugural address, the bar at Northern Illinois has been raised.”

Judson has been noted for his ability to recruit., and was a main reason the Illini landed Big 10 Player of the Year Frank Williams, Sergio McClain, Marcus Griffin, Lucas Johnson and and others on the Illinois bench. Groth said from the beginning of the search process that she wanted a coach who could recruit from the immediate area.

“He got the four guys from Peoria,” McClain said in a phone interview Tuesday. “He did a great job of recruiting.”

NIU players are relieved to have a new coach in place, although they were not able to meet with Judson before his hiring.

“I’m pretty excited,” said forward Marcus Smallwood. “I’m looking forward toward going in a new direction. I think this is the best thing for us to get a quality coach with experience at the Division 1 level. He’s the main person behind getting all those kids from Peoria. Hopefully, he will be able to do the same thing here as he did there.”

Judson will remain at Illinois until at least the opening round of the NCAA tournament. He will perform early NIU coaching duties by phone while his Illini team seeks an NCAA title.

“He’s still with us and going to be for the end of the season,” McClain said. “We all have to keep focused. Y’all did a great job of getting a great coach. He can recruit, he has faith in his players and he’s a hands-on coach. It’s time for him to get a head job.”