DeKALB – Xavier Silas spent most of the spring and summer away from DeKalb.
But after declaring for the NBA Draft and ultimately withdrawing, playing with the Reach USA basketball team in China and working out in Denver with NBA point guard Chauncey Billups, the Northern Illinois senior wing returned with eight teammates from last year’s team replaced with six new faces.
The remodeling of the NIU roster was for the better, Silas said, for a Huskies team that finished 10-20 on the court and had even more problems getting along off of it.
But after guard Jake Anderson (10.6 points a game) transferred to Iowa State – the guard said head coach Ricardo Patton forced him out – Mike DiNunno (7.0 points) transferred to Eastern Kentucky, center Sean Kowal (10.5 points, 6.4 rebounds) was released from his scholarship and walk-on center Michael Faukuade did not return, NIU players say team chemistry is now a strength of the Huskies.
Silas said the team even met up for a friendly game of pick-up football at Huskie Stadium recently, adding that last year’s squad never would have had such a gathering.
“Last year, we were a team but just in practice,” Silas said. “We played (Thursday) and it was just a great feeling, a great team feeling. I haven’t been part of a real team in a long time, so I’m excited about it.”
Patton agreed that with the additions of junior college transfers Tim Toler and Cameron Madlock, walk-on Trey Edwards and freshmen Aksel Bolin, Kyree Jones and Nate Rucker, the Huskies have shown more enthusiasm for one another.
“They seemed to have bonded really early on,” Patton said. “I think the thing that helped was the fact that the guys coming in came in with a level of humility. They didn’t come in thinking they were the savior. They came in just wanting to be a part of what we’re building.”
Still, the Huskies enter the season with only two players that started a majority of the season (Silas and forward Lee Fisher) and return only 49 percent of its offense and 33 percent of its rebounding. But Patton said that though team chemistry is intangible, it can’t be overrated.
“I think it’s the hardest thing to achieve and maybe the most important thing,” Patton said. “Every team’s going to have guys that can shoot the basketball. Every team’s going to have guys that can rebound, defend and different things. But if they don’t get along, if they’re not pulling in the same direction, they’re always going to underachieve.”
Added junior forward Tyler Storm: “I think we’re probably better off than we were last year, like right now. We obviously had talent last year, so there must be something else that wasn’t getting us the wins.”
Silas, who averaged 19.7 points last season, said a revamped roster of players that actually get along should prevent past failures, including last season’s 10-game losing streak during Mid-American Conference play.
“When you’re trying to play against the five guys on the court plus a couple guys on your own team, you have no chance of winning,” Silas said. “I think that (now) when we play five-on-five we have a really good chance.”