Rhetorical Question: So, who would you put on the all-time, Top 10 Northern Illinois University’s men’s basketball rebounder’s list?
If that’s possible. Limiting this elite group of Huskies boardmen to 10 might be difficult, even for Ethan Hunt, let alone a loyal NIU hoops aficionado of nearly a half century.
The thought popped into my head watching NIU redshirt-junior Jordan Threloff’s late-season maturation process in the low post, after seeing No. 42’s monster 27-point, 18-rebound game against Eastern Michigan, and perusing his increasing board numbers (10.8 rebounds a game in his past six games).
Threloff’s 18-board performance marked the best Huskie single-game rebound outing since forward Marcus Smallwood pulled down 21 against Loyola of Chicago in 2003.
In the paint, double-digit rebounds separate the men from the boys.
Is there a correlation between proficient rebounding and the team’s won-lost record? Strong inside play might be a factor. During each of the past nine seasons, NIU’s top rebounder averaged less than seven rebounds a game. In eight of those nine campaigns, the Huskies finished below .500.
That said, is rebounding a lost art? Historically, you must say yes. Between 1950-51 (the first year of documented individual NIU hoop statistics) and 1976-77, NIU’s top rebounder averaged double figures 22 times in 27 seasons. Conversely, in the past 35 years, the Huskies’ No. 1 boardman finished in single marks 32 times.
The recent NIU rebounding exceptions: Smallwood (10.1 in 2002-03), T. J. Lux (11.1 in 1997-98) and Allen Rayhorn (11.1 in 1980-81).
Nationally, the NCAA Division I rebounding trend is similar. Spiraling downward. As of Sunday, this winter’s NCAA rebound average leader is 6-foot-8 junior senior forward Jerrele Benimon of Towson at 11.7. Yes, 11.7. Guess that means NIU Hall of Famers Jim Smith (1967-69), Jim Bradley (1971-73) and Matt Hicks (1974-77) all played in the wrong era.
“Smitty” averaged 14.1 rebounds (30th in the NCAA in 1967-68) and 14.6 rebounds. (17th in 1968-69).
Northern Illinois’ Player of the Century Bradley ranked No. 4 (school-record 17.8 rpg. in 1972-73) and No. 5 (15.9 rpg. in 1971-72) in NCAA caroms. Hicks finished 12th in NCAA rebounds in back-to-back seasons (12.8 rpg. in 1975-76 and 13.0 rpg. in 1976-77).
Check out some past NCAA rebound kingpins – Creighton’s Paul Silas (20.6 in 1962-63), Detroit’s Spencer Haywood (21.5 in 1968-69), Jacksonville’s Artis Gilmore (22.2 in 1969-70 and 23.2 in 1970-71). Then, the college board deflation started.
Centenary’s Robert Parish won the NCAA rebound crown in 1974-75 (15.4) and 1975-76 (18.0), followed by Houston’s Akeem Olajuwon (13.5 in 1983-84), Navy’s David Robinson (13.0 in 1985-86) and Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan (14.7 in 1996-97). Even the most casual fan recognizes those future NBA Hall of Famers.
By 21st century standards (or anybody’s, for that matter), averaging double-figure rebounds still looks impressive.
(Good personal goal for 2014-15, eh, “Tree,” I mean Mr. Threloff?).
The Mike Korcek all-time Top Ten Northern Illinois chairmen of the boards (since 1950-51):
Honorable mention: Kenny Battle (1984-96), Chris Coleman (1994-97), Paul Dawkins (1975-79), Tim Dillon (1980-84), Jim Futrell (1961-64), Norm Goldman (1951-55), John Harris (1975-79), Cleveland Ivey (1969-72), Ron Lindfors (1980-83), Tom Miller (1965-66), John Olson (1953-56), Hubert Register (1991-95), Leon Rodgers (1998-2002), Chuck Schramm, Sr. (1952-53), Dennis Taylor (1969-71), Shawn Thrower (1977-81) and Ed Ware (1948-51)
No. 10: Smallwood (2000-04): Classic jumping jack and athletic specimen. Literally. The 6-6 forward could take off twice before most opponents jumped once. Produced 843 career rebounds and 1,276 career points. Averaged 10.1 rpg./13.3 ppg. as junior and 9.3 rpg./14/3 ppg. as senior.
No. 9: W. L. Moore (1962-65): Best word to describe the 6-6, 210-pound Moore - intimidating. Ruled the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Association backboards. Productive flat-footed jumper. First post-World War II player to lead Huskies in rebounding for three straight winters (12.7, 13.7 and 15.2 rpg., respectively). Held NIU single-season rebound record (335 in 1964-65).
No. 8 Abe Booker (1958-61): “The Book.” 6-5, 231-pound man-child with (sometimes) surly attitude and nasty elbows. Still holds NIU single-game rebound record (32 vs. Eastern Michigan in 1959).
No. 7 Larry Gentry (1956-60): Long-time NIU basketball standard-bearer as all-time career scorer (1,296 points) and rebounder (925). Averaged point-rebound double-double each season and for career (16.8 ppg./12.0 rpg.). Four-time All-IIAC. First three-time Huskies MVP.
No. 6: Donnell Thomas (1987-91): Called mini-Charles Barkley for relentless rebound pursuit (984 career) at 6-4. First and only NIU performer to lead team in boardwork for four straight seasons (8.5 rpg. in 1987-88, 9.6 in 1988-89, 8.0 in 1989-90 and 8.2 in 1990-91). Produced 37 career point-rebound double-doubles.
No. 5 Lux (1995-2000): Master of paint smarts, position, and consistency. “The King of the Double-Double” (50 double-doubles in 116 career games). Ranks No. 1 in NIU career scoring (1,996 points) and rebounding (1,100). Only four-year male first-team all-league hardwood star in school history. Three-time Academic All-America and team MVP.
No. 4: Smith (1967-69): Old-school. All-Effort. All-Block-out. Strong legs and torso allowed 6-7 Smith to plant himself in the lane, spread out would-be defenders with his forearms and elbows and dominate. Produced 967 points, 689 boards, 43 twin-digit rebound games, and 40 point-rebound double-doubles in two winters (48 games). Muscled 6-11 “Slammin’ ” Sam Lacey and No. 16 New Mexico State for 16 points and 20 boards at Chicago Stadium (Feb. 8, 1969) and joked afterward: “I’m ready for Lew Alcindor now.” “Big Left” was a true classic.
No. 3: Hicks (1974-77): NIU’s own David “Skywalker” Thompson at 6-4, but played 6-8. First performer in Mid-American Conference history to repeat as scoring and rebounding champion. “Smallest” D-I boardman in NCAA Top 15 in back-to-back seasons. Produced 1,513 career points, 790 boards and 46 point-rebound double-doubles (68 games). Target of many rigged defenses, illegal hold block-outs, and undercut attempts. Projecting his career numbers (22.0 ppg. and 11.8 rpg. in 67 appearances to 100 games), Hicks would’ve finished with 2,200 points and 1,180 rebounds.
No. 2: Rayhorn (1978-82): White men can jump. With an uncanny sense of timing, farm work ethic and “danged” (his word) perseverance, “Horn” pounded and pounded the glass. “[Rayhorn]never gives up,” said Kansas State forward Les Kraft after the NCAA game in 1982. “There’s nobody in the Big Eight that plays that hard.” One-time No. 1 NIU all-time scorer (1,848 points) and rebounder (1,077 in 115 games). Graduated as one of only 10 players in MAC history with four-figure career point-rebound totals.
No. 1: Bradley (1971-73): How prophetic was the famous Sports Illustrated shot in the DeKalb cornfields?
At 6-10, 221 pounds, “the Franchise” had it all, ultimately being compared to “Magic” Johnson. With his height, athleticism and wingspan, there’s no better inside player in the NIU record book.
Imagine his two-year stats (1,134 career points, 824 rebounds, 46 point-rebound double-doubles, and two triple-doubles, 15 20-plus-rebound outings in 49 games) projected to three or four seasons. Pulled down career-best 31 caroms vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Feb. 19, 1973). His 24-point, 20-board performance in the upset of No. 5 Indiana (Jan. 4, 1972) said it all.
“I think Jim Bradley was as talented a player as I ever saw,” former ABA Kentucky Colonels star Dan Issel once said. “I mean, talent-wise, I would put him with the Julius Ervings and David Thompsons of this world.”
• Mike Korcek is a former NIU sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.