DeKALB – Redshirt senior forward Lacey James showed the glimpses of potential that led Northern Illinois men’s basketball coach Mark Montgomery to glow about James, who was playing in his second full year with the Huskies.
“I want to average a double-double for the whole year,” James said. “I want to have a double-double every game. I wrote down a couple goals and put them in my locker. Those are one of the goals.”
James averaged eight points and 6.9 rebounds a game a season ago but frequently found himself in foul trouble. James played less than 20 minutes six times in Mid-American Conference play and picked up four fouls in 13 games, although he did not foul out in a game.
Glimpses of a breakout post player were available from time to time from James last year, with a 20-point, 14-rebound game against Ohio and a 16-point, 19-rebound performance in a late-season win against Central Michigan.
James scored at least 10 points in 13 games and had double-figure rebounding totals in eight games.
“A lot of those times it was hard because I was in foul trouble a lot with those guys, where I had lower rebounding, lower points,” James said. “When I found myself … not in foul trouble, that’s when I have the big games.”
The Huskies, who lost Dante Thorpe and a post presence in Levi Bradley, now a professional for the British Basketball League’s Bristol Flyers, need a second and third scorer to emerge as definitive scorers.
“He’s going to have to consistently be a double-double guy, and he’s capable of doing that,” Montgomery said.
Early in the season, the Huskies will be seeking an identity. Doing so may help them avoid some of the downs they experienced during a 17-17 overall, 8-10 MAC season.
“We have to play with more consistency,” Montgomery said. “Where we look back at last year’s season, it seems like it was a roller coaster, where we’d win two or three, we’d lose a few, we’d win a few. We started off MAC play hot, then cold, ended the season definitely on a positive note where we won our last four out of five and got to the MAC semifinals.”
With fellow forward Noah McCarty, a Newman graduate, in the paint with him, James hopes to be a formidable threat.
“I want to be the guy down low [who] has the force and makes sure that our team knows that and other teams know that as well,” James said.
Forming a defensive toughness could go a long way, something senior guard Eugene German takes seriously.
“I definitely got to lock in more on defense, because I know if I lock in more on defense, [my teammates are] going to follow me,” German said. “We’re going to be out there playing the best defense we can as a team. They see their leader playing defense, we’re all going to be playing defense.”
German enters the season sixth in program history with 1,569 points and only 427 points back of tying T.J. Lux at 1,996 points for the top spot.
NIU is set to play big nonconference matchups against Northern Iowa (Saturday’s home opener), Associated Press ranked St. Mary’s on the road and Iowa State, all before what tends to be a tumultuous MAC campaign.
McCarty said he knows from experience that the team has what it takes to respond to adverse situations, using last year’s MAC semifinal near comeback against Bowling Green as an example.
“We’re going to take bumps, we’re going to take bruises, we’re going to lose games, we’re not going to go undefeated,” McCarty said. “Obviously, that would be great, but almost impossible. So the fact that we’re going to have tough times in practice, we’re going to have tough times in games, but it’s going to be how our leadership responds, how we respond to coaching, how we respond to each other and help out each other right away and take a deep breath and realize we can do whatever we need to do.”
Montgomery hopes to get senior guard Alize Travis back in several months from a sports hernia injury. NIU gets back a group of regular contributors in junior guards Rod Henry-Hayes and Gairges Daow, while guard Zaire Mateen will look to contribute more. Junior transfers Nathan Scott (Olney Central College) and Chris Johnson (South Suburban College) also look to make impacts from their forward spots.
Sophomores Trendon Hankerson (guard) and Justin Lee (forward) both have impressed the coaches, with Hankerson manning the point guard spot at times a season ago as a freshman. Lee missed all of last season with an injury and is nursing a banged up knee heading into the season. Transfer guard Darius Beane (Southern Illinois – Carbondale) also is expected to play significant minutes immediately.
Concerning the freshmen, numerous Huksies have sung the praises of guard Tyler Cochran, with Montgomery expecting him to see major minutes. Rounding out the freshmen are Keenon Cole (forward) of Streamwood and Daniel Filippone (guard) of Antioch.