Men’s basketball prepping for year two of Rashon Burno

NIU projected to finish last in the MAC


Northern Star File Photo

Sophomore guard Keshawn Williams drives against the Eastern Illinois defense during their game on Dec. 2. Williams scored a career-high 24 points.

DeKALB – NIU men’s basketball is set to begin the 2022-23 regular season under the reins of second-year head coach Rashon Burno.

Burno was hired at the beginning of the 2021-22 season after spending six seasons at Arizona State University. Burno served as Arizona State’s associate head coach for five seasons, where he helped lead the Sun Devils to two NCAA Tournament appearances in 2018 and 2019. He also helped orchestrate three straight 20-win seasons at Arizona State from 2017 to 2020, according to NIU Athletics.

In his first season as NIU’s head coach, Burno guided the Huskies to a 6-14 Mid-American Conference record and a 9-21 record overall. Junior guard Keshawn Williams averaged a team-high 16.3 points per game, earning all-conference honors under Burno’s guidance. Senior guard Kaleb Thornton was named to the All-MAC Academic Team during the 2021-22 season, the first time an NIU player has earned the honors since 2017, according to NIU Athletics.

Burno expressed his excitement for returning players at NIU’s Winter Sports Media Day on Thursday. Along with Williams and Thornton, Burno noticed sizable offseason improvements from sophomore guard Zion Russell and redshirt senior Anthony Crump.

“We have Zion (Russell), who we didn’t get the best version of last year,” Burno said. “But he had a tremendous offseason, putting in a lot of work. He shoots the ball extremely well, and gives us toughness on the perimeter. Anthony Crump had a great summer, his versatility will really be on display this season. We’re going to use him more, and take full advantage of his skill set.”

NIU added seven new players this year, including three freshmen with overseas origins. Freshman forward Yanic Konan Niederhauser was recruited from Fraschels, Switzerland and will bring size for the Huskies. Freshman guard Taku Youngblood is originally from Yokohama, Japan, and freshman guard Armandas “AP” Plintauskas is from Kedainiai, Lithuania, according to NIU Athletics. Burno has high hopes for his newly added freshmen.

“Yanic Niederhausuer, six-foot-11, six-foot-10 center can play at a high level, play above the rim,” Burno said. “The kid from Lithuania, AP, is a great shooter. This is still a young team. Their process will still be a year or two, but I like the talent. I like the togetherness that these guys bring every day.”

The Huskies will be met with tough competition in non-conference play this season. NIU will be tested early as they face Northwestern University on Nov. 11 for their third game of the season. On Nov. 17, the Huskies will face Georgia Tech University at the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tournament. The tournament will take place at Atlanta, Georgia, and Fort Myers, Florida.

The toughest matchup of the season for the Huskies will be on Dec. 12 when they travel to Spokane, Washington, to play against Gonzaga University. Gonzaga is ranked No. 2 overall in the country in the AP Top 25 preseason men’s college basketball rankings, according to the NCAA.

“We put together a comprehensive schedule,” Burno said. “The MAC in itself is challenging. I want to make sure that our guys are battle-tested before playing in the MAC. We got to go out and compete.”

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity for us to see where we’re at,” Thornton said. “As a college player, you always dream about playing in big environments like that against the best team. That’s a game everybody on our team is looking forward to.”

The Huskies are projected to finish in last place in the MAC preseason men’s basketball rankings, according to the Northern Star. Despite being ranked at the bottom of the MAC for the second straight year, the Huskies are ready to prove doubters wrong.

“We’re gonna have a big chip on our shoulder and it’s gonna motivate us more,” Williams said. “We’re just gonna come out hungrier and always compete.”

The Huskies will host an exhibition game against McKendree University at 7 p.m. on Oct. 31 at the NIU Convocation Center.