Oldendorf emerges as big force

By Wes Swietek

How quickly things change.

For example, at the start of the NIU men’s basketball season, Steve Oldendorf was expected by many to continue the role of bench warmer.

Twenty games into the season, he has become a key member of the Huskies. His emergence has been dramatic.

His 7-foot frame was usually found on the end of the bench last season. The sophomore from Burbank played in only 14 games his freshman year, attempted only 12 shots all season and wound up averaging 1.4 points and .8 rebounds.

The onset of injuries and ineligibility that have plagued the Huskies have given Oldendorf more playing time. And, coupled with the easygoing handling by new NIU head coach Brian Hammel, Oldendorf has responded.

“The more playing time I get, the more confident I get,” Oldendorf said. “There were a lot of people ahead of me last year (and) I’ve matured a lot since last season.”

That maturity is evident in the numbers.

On the season, Oldendorf is averaging 7 points and 5 rebounds, but since tallying 13 points and 7 rebounds against Wright State Jan. 20, “Oldy” has been on a hot streak.

In the last six games, he has averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds and had a career day at Western Illinois with 16 points and 16 boards.

“He’s been getting some time to play, and to his credit, he’s made the most of it,” said Hammel, who feels the best is yet to come.

“You are far from really seeing his best. He’s going to be a heck of a player if he believes in himself, but he’s really starting to come along.

“We just need to keep working with him,” Hammel said.

But Oldendorf credits the work already done by NIU’s new coaching staff for his improvement.

“I think coach Hammel and the assistants have been the main factor,” Oldendorf said. “I’m playing with more confidence. Last year, it seemed (former NIU coach Jim Molinari) tried to break down my confidence.”

Oldendorf’s newfound confidence may also be a result of the coming-together of the depleted Huskies.

“Everyone is a leader because there are so few of us. We’re definitely much more mature—everyone knows their role,” he said.

Oldendorf concedes that he would like to add some more weight to his 230-pound frame for the coming season, but said the transition from bench jockey to work horse has not taxed his conditioning.

“I’m not as tired as I thought I would be. After a good night’s sleep (after a game) you’re ready to go,” said Oldendorf, who isn’t about to complain about his increased playing time. “You don’t want to substitute when you’re playing well.”

As for short-term goals, Oldendorf is looking to the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament and its automatic NCAA bid. “I think we have a good shot at winning the tournament,” Oldendorf said.

And he cites continued improvement as his personal goal.

“I just want to help the team any way I can.”