I went out to DeKalb today to visit with new NIU coach Mark Montgomery. He seemed awfully happy and relaxed, but I figured it was due mostly to the gorgeous Friday afternoon weather and, of course, my lovely presence.
As it turns out, Montgomery had at least two extra reasons to smile and be especially upbeat. Before I arrived, NIU received a commitment from Class of 2012 scoring guard Mike Davis of Garfield Heights (Ohio) High School. Davis averaged 14 points for a team that went to the state semifinals this season.
Then, not long after I left to meet with Dave Doeren and defensive coordinator Jay Niemann, NIU received a commitment from Class of 2011 forward Abdel Nader (a former Niles North HS standout). How high-profile is the 6-foot-7 Nader? Thirteen months ago, Nader committed to New Mexico and head coach Steve Alford.
According to College Hoops.com, Nader had an offer from Providence this time around with several other high majors sniffing around in hopes of bringing him in for 2012. Instead, he has opted to play right away for NIU…which has put together quite a freshman class since Montgomery and his staff came aboard shortly before the Final Four.
Now, you’re probably wondering why a guy with Nader’s pedigree would choose NIU. For starters, it’s no secret that he doesn’t exactly have a 5.0 GPA. I don’t know what his GPA might be, but I’m guessing it’s good enough to be eligible or else NIU wouldn’t bother because the Huskies already had 13 guys on scholarship for 2011-12.
Second, Nader was quoted by College Hoops.com as saying, “I want to play at a school where I’m going to have the ball in my hands and be able to play right away.” There’s definitely playing time available at NIU…especially on the perimeter.
NIU has seven freshmen who’ll arrive at school in June: Nader, De La Salle combo forward Dre Henley, Saginaw, Mich., PG Marquavis “Quay” Ford, Glenbard East PG Zach Miller, Brooks High School post players Keith and Kevin Gray and Tennessee wing DeAndre Barnette.
Considering NIU’s only two returning starters are post players --- senior Tim Toler (9.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and sophomore Nate Rucker (7.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg) --- it’s not crazy to project Nader, Henley and Ford being in the starting lineup when the Huskies open the Montgomery Era on Nov. 11 at Purdue.
Here’s what Montgomery had to say about Henley today: “We convinced Dre he could change the program: Not just be another player. I think it always takes a special class to change how people look at Northern Illinois --- or change the culture. Hopefully getting that commitment, because I think he’s a high-major player if you look at the rankings and different things, he’s going to have other kids look at it and say, ‘If he took a chance, so can I.”
I guess that strategy worked with Nader, no?
Anyway, Ford, Miller and sophomore returnee Antone Christian are the candidates to play the point this year. Christian has been more of a 2 during his first two years at NIU, but he showed Montgomery some things during individual drills this spring.
I’ll get to more of my chat with Montgomery in an upcoming blog, but let’s stop here with a look at NIU’s non-conference schedule:
Friday, Nov. 11: at Purdue
Monday, Nov. 14: MILWAUKEE
Thursday, Nov. 17: at Iowa
Sunday, Nov. 20: EIU
There also are home games with DePaul, SIU and Valpo --- they’re all home-and-home series that will be repaid next year, I believe --- and there are road games with UIC, Boise State and Utah Valley. A couple more home games have yet to be worked out.
One last thing: If you don’t mind running and want to meet Montgomery on Saturday morning, he’ll be at Potawatomi Woods in Kirkland to do the Rotary Club’s 5K run.
“I’m just hoping to finish,” Montgomery claimed.
Judging by Friday’s recruiting haul, he might float the 3.1-mile course.