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NIU's Montgomery 'more at ease’ in 2nd season

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT
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(Kyle Bursaw — kbursaw@shawmedia.com)
Northern Illinois University men's basketball coach Mark Montgomery talks to a reporter during the NIU's basketball media day Monday at O'Leary's Pub in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Mark Montgomery admitted he took in a lot during his first year as Northern Illinois’ men’s basketball coach.

Among the lessons learned: The Huskies play in the Convocation (not “Convention”) Center, and how to tell apart sophomore twin brothers Keith and Kevin Gray.

At NIU’s basketball media day Monday at O’Leary’s Pub, Montgomery noted an increased comfort level going into his second year as coach.

“You’re always a little more at ease in Year 2,” Montgomery said. “Our goals haven’t changed from Year 1 to Year 2. We still want to make sure that we definitely get better in practice, in games and keep improving.”

Coming off a 5-26 season that included a 0-11 start, NIU will feature a young, but more experienced, lineup in 2012-13. The Huskies return their top five scorers and top-six rebounders from last year and welcome seven incoming freshmen.

Two of the newcomers, Travon Baker and Daveon Balls, are expected to compete for the starting spot at point guard. They’ll be part of a deep rotation that Montgomery wants to employ during the season.

“We’ve had one scrimmage, and right now we’re 11 deep where 11 guys played 12-plus minutes a game,” Montgomery said. “I’m expecting all the freshmen to play a lot of minutes for us.”

Montgomery said he’s hoping for this year’s team to get out in transition and play a more up-tempo game. He also will use the improved depth to play more of a pressure defense.

“I’m looking forward to playing with all these guys and playing two, three, four minutes and then sub out, take a little break and get back in ... go for full 100 percent all the time,” said junior Aksel Bolin, who led the team in minutes played last season. “I like that sort of play and I think that’s how we should be playing.”

Montgomery wouldn’t set expectations for NIU in terms of regular-season wins, but made his postseason goals clear.

“When it comes to March, we want to be back in Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland,” Montgomery said. “And staying there a few more days.”

The MAC tournament is somewhere NIU’s women’s basketball team had success last year. The Huskies reached the MAC quarterfinals for the first time since 2007, defeating Western Michigan and Akron before bowing out to Toledo.

This season, the Huskies return 10 players from last year’s group, including more than 60 percent of their points and rebounds. The notable exception is Claire Jakubicek, the 2011-12 MAC Freshman of the Year and the team’s leading scorer, who transferred to Indiana last spring.

“This year definitely the experience will help a lot more because last year we had a lot of new faces and newcomers that weren’t acclimated, ... such as myself,” sophomore guard Amanda Corral said. “I think the freshmen are getting really comfortable playing, too, so that’s a good thing.”

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