NIU enters year one of Burno-era


Khavon Thomas | Northern Star

Junior guard Kaleb Thornton drives by two St. Francis defenders in NIU’s 80-57 victory over the Fighting Saints at the Convocation Center on Oct. 30.

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Reporter

At a glance

  • NIU enters their first season under former Arizona State assistant coach Rashon Burno
  • Huskies have non-conference scheduled filled with high-profile matchups
  • Men’s basketball looking for first March Madness appearance since 1996

DeKALB — The NIU men’s basketball team seeks to make waves in the Mid-American Conference with a new head coach at the helm and a remodeled roster of players.

The Huskies will be led by first-year head coach Rashon Burno, who was hired as the 29th head coach of the men’s basketball program at NIU in March.

Regarding his coaching philosophy, Burno has said that he plans for the team to “play a fun style of ball,” but also be “super aggressive (on both sides).”

“We’re going to hit first,” Burno said. “We’re going to go out and compete for every inch of that floor. You’re going to see a competitive 13 guys moving as one unit.”

The roster for this season features a relatively even mix of veterans and newcomers. Six players from the previous regime returned to the team this year, while Burno brought in seven players via the transfer portal and freshman signings.

Sophomore guard Keshawn Williams goes for a layup in NIU’s exhibition game against St. Francis on Oct. 30. Williams transferred to NIU from Tulsa. (Khavon Thomas | Northern Star)

Sophomore guard Keshawn Williams said that the newcomers to the team have meshed well with veterans of the program in the locker room and on the court. 

“Since day one, we’ve all connected,” Williams said. “We’ve been close with each other. We all just compete against each other. As we kept (competing and playing basketball), it created a family.”

Williams is one of the four transfers that were recruited by Burno in the offseason, having previously played at the University of Tulsa.

Senior guard Trendon Hankerson, the longest-tenured player on the team, has high expectations for the Huskies in his fourth and possibly final year at NIU.

“This is probably one of the better-recruited teams, especially with a new coach that came in,” Hankerson said. “I’m expecting us to have a very competitive season and hopefully be top of the MAC.”

The team’s first regular-season game will be on Tuesday as the Huskies travel to Seattle, Wash. There, they will compete against the University of Washington Huskies from the Pac-12 Conference.

Other non-conference opponents set to play against NIU include the University of Indiana from the Big Ten Conference, Marquette University from the Big East Conference, and Eastern Illinois University from the Ohio Valley Conference.

Beginning with their matchup against the Ball State University Cardinals on Dec. 28, NIU will spend the final 20 games of the regular season, facing off against opponents exclusively from the Mid-American Conference. NIU will play each member of the conference at least once.

The season finale of the 2021-2022 campaign will be a home game for the Huskies, as they will host the Ohio University Bobcats at the Convocation Center on March 4, 2022.

NIU will attempt to make its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament in school history. Their most recent appearance dates back to 1996, where the Huskies fell to the Texas Tech University Red Raiders in the first round 74-73.

With their 80-57 exhibition win against the University of St. Francis now in the books, the Huskies will prepare for their first regular season action on the road against the University of Washington Tuesday. Tip-off for the game is scheduled for 9 p.m. at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle, Wash.