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NIU men's basketball standing taller

Northern Illinois men’s basketball coach Mark Montgomery is pretty straightforward about the Huskies’ newfound post presence.

“You can expect the ball to go inside,” he said at NIU’s annual media day in October.

There’s a reason the Huskies’ third-year coach wants his team to keep getting the ball to its post players, as NIU has three players 6-foot-9 or taller on its roster.

Last season, NIU’s tallest posts were twins Keith and Kevin Gray at 6-8. They were asked to play the five spot at times instead of their natural position of power forward.

Now, Montgomery has centers Jordan Threloff (6-9), Pete Rakocevic (6-11) and Marin Maric (6-10) at his disposal.

Expect the Huskies to get the posts countless touches whenever the Huskies take the floor.

“Coach stresses to get the ball inside all the time,” said NIU freshman guard Dontel Highsmith, who should be a contributor this season. “Play inside-out. We try to get the [posts] the most touches.”

Anyone who follows DeKalb County high school basketball is familiar with Threloff, the former DeKalb High standout. Threloff was the Daily Chronicle’s 2009-10 Boys Basketball Player of the Year after averaging 18.4 points and 12.6 rebounds as a senior, leading the Barbs to a sectional final.

At Illinois State last year, Threloff averaged 2.5 points in 7.9 minutes a game for the Redbirds. He transferred to NIU this spring and was granted the NCAA’s hardship waiver, which allowed him to play this year and not have to sit out a season.

Maric, a native of Split, Croatia, spent one year at La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Ind., averaging 10.2 points and 6.3 rebounds. Rakocevic practiced with the Huskies last year, but had to sit out the season after transferring from Sacramento State. He averaged 1.3 points in 16 games during the 2011-12 season.

“[Rakocevic] is definitely a low-post presence. He has a right-hand and a left-hand jump hook. Pete can stretch you out and shoot the 15-, 17-footer,” Montgomery said. “Pete’s the vocal guy. Pete’s the locker-room guy, the guy to keep things loose.

“He’s just ready to play. When you sit out a year, you just refresh. You want to get out there and continue any way possible.”

In 2012-13, NIU had little size as it struggled to its second straight five-win season. This season, size might be an advantage for the Huskies.

Montgomery said he’ll have no problem putting two centers on the floor at once, and the Grays will be able to play their natural forward spots.

Threloff is one player who also could see time at power forward in addition to center. He said the big guys push each other in practice, something that’s getting them a lot tougher.

“I feel like sometimes they should just roll out a mat and let us wrestle. We go hard and there’s no stopping,” he said. “We don’t like to call fouls in practice because this is a physical conference. And so, we’re not going to call fouls in the post; we’re not going to call fouls in the lane. You’re going to have to play through the little stuff and keep playing.”

To Montgomery, depth is not only better at center, but everywhere else as well. Highsmith should see significant time, and brothers Aaric and Aaron Armstead are guards who also should bolster the roster.

Montgomery said the Huskies go two-deep at every position.

“You have now, 4, 5, 6 different players that can get you between eight to 12 points, and I think that’s big,” he said. “Previous teams, we just hadn’t had enough (depth).”

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