Young Huskies build on adversity

By Wes Swietek

What was supposed to be the NIU men’s basketball team’s rebuilding year is turning into a solid foundation for the future.

After another impressive win for the shorthanded Huskies Wednesday night at Loyola (62-56), NIU stands at 7-11, 4-4 going into Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. Mid-Continent Conference match against Cleveland State at Chick Evans Field House.

In the recent stretch of games, NIU may have found the nucleus of its squad for the next several years.

Sophomore center Steve Oldendorf is averaging double figures in scoring and rebounding in the last four games. Walk-on freshman Vaurice Patterson is playing almost 40 minutes a game at the point guard slot.

Freshman Marlin Simms and juniors Randy Fens and David Mitchell have also been getting major playing time because of NIU’s thinness and have repeatedly produced.

With Fens out of the Loyola game because of an injured elbow, the rest of the Huskies stepped up to earn the win.

“The guys did a tremendous job with the make-up of the ball club,” head coach Brian Hammel said. “We reached a little deeper and everybody made a big play.”

Because of their nine-deep roster, the Huskies “have to keep mixing and matching,” Hammel said. “So many guys are playing out of position—we have to keep playing as a team with everyone accepting their roles.”

And the roles for the Huskies continue to increase—Fens is on a day-to-day status with his injured elbow.

Along with the stepping-up of the Huskies’ young players, NIU’s senior leadership provided by Brian Molis and Mike Hidden can’t be discounted.

“Molis and Hidden do things that don’t show up in the box-score. (Like) taking over and getting the team together. Those types of things are what we need from them,” Hammel said.

The resourceful Huskies have won two straight going into Saturday’s game, the first of four-straight home games.

Cleveland State, although 8-10 overall, is 1-7 in the Mid-Con. But Hammel isn’t putting a “W” down on the Huskies’ ledger yet.

“We don’t look at records, they don’t mean much. They have had a long time to prepare for us and (7-footer Shawn) Fergus will be back,” Hammel said.

Cleveland State was without Fergus in NIU’s 82-77 win at Cleveland earlier this month.

“They’re a much-improved ballclub,” Hammel said. “We really need the student body’s support for these games.”