The men who piece together the ‘puzzle’

By Rob Bolton

Tough jobs are designed to test the ambitious.

But does achieving that yearn of what was initially desired necessarily fulfill the need?

The patience needed to perform the duties of these guys clearly nullifies the aforementioned and immediately categorizes it as a prerequisite.


Sure, but how about the obligations of three men which the NIU men’s basketball team needs for consistency, depth and congruity.

Sam Dixon, Scott Duncan, Jeff Strohm.

This terribly underrated trio is the backbone of what holds the squad together.

They are the glue.

Dixon, Duncan, and Strohm are the assistant coaches under head coach Brian Hammel. They facilitate what needs to be done, and what needs to be improved.

With this year’s myriad of fresh talent, their job stands out. They become the thread which bonds dreams to success.

Their role could, perhaps, be the most important of all.

“With coach Hammel,” Dixon informed, “we focus in on every facet of the game—offense, defense, individual improvement. If we can make each one of our players 10 to 15 percent better, then we’re going to improve the team.”

Since Hammel is the king on the hierarchy of the staff, the subordinates must take heed. But, the beauty of how the system works, of how the Huskies use it to better themselves, is truly a craft to behold.

“‘We makes me stronger’ is one of our mottos this year,” explained Dixon. “So, as a group, we want to be better individually, better as a team …

“We’re just going to take each individual and tailor (his) game to help the team become better. With some players it may be footwork, some other players it may be ballhandling, rebounding with some other players, passing with some; so, we take each phase of the game and try to improve them fundamentally.

“We work with everything, it’s not ‘you have just one specific area and that’s all you focus in on’ … you have to be conscious of everything.”

OK, once it’s determined who needs what help where, the implementation of those skills becomes the lesson. Once again, the underestimated importance of the terrific threesome steps up.

“That’s one of our jobs as coaches,” Dixon acknowledged, “to get them to mesh together, put the pieces in the puzzle. It’s like being a play director—you have to take apart and fit the people to the roles and, hopefully, the finished product comes out the way that you would like it. …

“(We) find out what each role of each player is going to be, get him to commit to that role, get him to compete, and work hard from there.”

The preparation, the countless hours of toil, the ability to see what it will take to succeed.

All in the shadows of the assistant coaches.