The NIU men's basketball team received an invitation to play in the inaugural Vegas 16 Basketball Tournament. Director of Athletics Sean T. Frazier, Head Coach Mark Montgomery, and players Travon Baker and Chuks Iroegbu were on hand to answer questions about the Huskies first postseason appearance in 20 seasons.
On March 24, 2011, Mark Montgomery was introduced as the 27th head coach in the history of the Northern Illinois University men's basketball program. In 2015-16, Montgomery enters his fifth season at NIU following 10 seasons at his alma mater, Michigan State University, six as an assistant coach and the last four as associate head coach.
Montgomery, a Michigan native who also has previous experience in the Mid-American Conference in four seasons as an assistant coach at Central Michigan, made 10 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and three Final Four appearances with the Spartans as a member of Tom Izzo’s staff. He helped coach 26 All-Big Ten players at Michigan State and six players that went on to be selected in the National Basketball Association Draft, while on the bench for 235 MSU wins - an average of 23.5 victories per season.
During his first season as head coach at Northern Illinois, Montgomery guided one of the youngest teams in the nation to the program’s first MAC Tournament victory since 2003, defeating MAC West Champion Eastern Michigan in the opening round of the conference tournament to advance to Cleveland.
NIU saw 55.9 percent of its minutes played by freshmen during the 2011-12 season, the sixth-highest percentage in the country. In his first season at the helm in DeKalb, the Huskies laid the foundation for Montgomery’s style of play, leading the MAC in offensive rebounds while ranking second in rebounding defense and third in rebounding margin.
Under Montgomery’s tutelage, Abdel Nader became the first NIU player since 2009 to be named to the MAC All-Freshman Team.
Montgomery’s second season at NIU saw the Huskies continue to build the foundation of the program with the fourth-least experienced team in the country. The Huskies achieved a number of milestone victories in 2012-13, including the program’s first win at Miami (Ohio) since 1981, its first win at Central Michigan since 2006 and its first victory over Kent State since 2003.
NIU suffered a number of near-misses, losing seven games by five points or less, while finishing the season ranked second in the MAC in offensive rebounds and second in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage.
During the 2013-14 season, his third at NIU, Montgomery engineered the largest single-season win improvement in school history, and the 10th-largest nationally for the season, as the Huskies recorded a 10-win improvement, going 15-17, NIU’s most victories since the 2005-06 season. Montgomery finished second in the voting for MAC Coach of the Year.
Despite having the second-least experienced team in the MAC, Montgomery led NIU to its most non-conference wins, six, since 1999-2000 and its most home wins, 10, 1994-95; NIU closed the season with a five-game home winning streak. The Huskies also recorded their first top-50 RPI win, Toledo on Feb. 26, since December 14, 1999 (Wisconsin).
NIU earned the No. 7 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, earning a first round home game for the first time since 2003, while advancing to Cleveland for the second time in three seasons.
Under Montgomery’s guidance, Jordan Threloff earned All-MAC honorable mention recognition and Aaric Armstead was named to the MAC All-Freshman Team.
The Huskies continued to make strides during the 2014-15 season, Montgomery’s fourth at NIU. The Huskies posted a 14-16 record playing against a strength of schedule ranked 147th in the nation, NIU’s best since 2004-05. Playing in a much-improved MAC, NIU posted an RPI of 188, the school’s best since 2005-06.
The 2014-15 Huskies opened the season with six-straight home wins, tying a school-record with 11 consecutive home victories dating back to 2013-14. NIU posted its first winning non-conference record since 2005-06 and Montgomery’s charges also finished the season strong, winning each of their last four regular season games, including a win at Toledo, NIU’s first win over Western Michigan since 2010 and a victory over MAC regular season champion Central Michigan.
Prior to his arrival at NIU, Montgomery was named one of the top five high-major assistant coaches in the country by FoxSports.com in 2010, while Rivals.com put him on its list of "10 Assistant Coaches Ready to Move Up." In addition, FoxSports.com national college basketball writer Jeff Goodman named Montgomery the top assistant coach in the Big Ten Conference based on a poll of league coaches.
In his first season as an assistant coach at Michigan State, Montgomery helped mentor First Team All-Big Ten honoree Marcus Taylor, who went on to be selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2002 NBA Draft. Despite losing 81 percent of its scoring from the previous season, the Spartans finished just one game out of first place in the Big Ten.
Montgomery helped the Spartans reach the 2005 NCAA Final Four, the sixth Final Four in school history. Along the way, MSU defeated top-seeded Duke and second-seeded Kentucky in the Austin Regional, becoming the only school to defeat the Blue Devils and Wildcats in the same year.
In May of 2007, Montgomery was elevated to associate head coach by Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. The Spartans returned to the NCAA Sweet 16 the following season before falling to national runner-up Memphis.
Michigan State won the Big Ten championship and made its second Final Four appearance of Montgomery's coaching tenure in 2008-09. The Spartans went 31-7, 15-3 in Big Ten play, including 8-1 on the road in conference, and won the league by four games. MSU knocked off No. 1 seeds Louisville and Connecticut in the regional final and national semifinal, respectively, before succumbing to top-ranked North Carolina in the championship game in Detroit, Mich. Michigan State led the nation in rebounding margin (+9.3) and also led the Big Ten in scoring offense (72.0 ppg).
The Spartans again won the Big Ten championship in 2009-10, amassing a 28-9 overall record, 14-4 in conference, and returned to the Final Four for the third time in six seasons, making a run to college basketball's ultimate stage from the number five seed in the Midwest region. For the second consecutive season, Michigan State again led the nation in rebounding margin (+8.6).
During his 10-year coaching tenure with the Spartans, Montgomery mentored four players (Chris Hill, Kalin Lucas, Drew Neitzel and Travis Walton) that currently rank among the top-10 in career assists at Michigan State. In addition, Montgomery helped eight Spartan perimeter players reach the 1,000-point plateau in his time on the Michigan State staff and helped Lucas earn Big Ten Player of the Year honors in 2009 and Walton earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year recognition that same season.
Montgomery began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Central Michigan where he became a member of Jay Smith's first coaching staff in 1997-98. Following a 6-23 season in 1999-2000, the Chippewas made a worst-to-first turnaround the following season as they finished the 2000-01 campaign with a 20-8 record, winning the MAC with a conference mark of 14-4.
An outstanding player during his collegiate career, Montgomery was a four-year letterwinner at Michigan State from 1988-92. A 1992 All-Big Ten Third Team selection, Montgomery ended his career as the then-career leader in games played at MSU (126). A four-year starter for the Spartans, he was part of the 1990 Big Ten Championship team, three NCAA Tournament teams and an NIT Final Four. Montgomery ranks fourth on the career assists chart (561) after leading the team in assists as a junior (169) and senior (190). He also ranks fourth on the MSU career steals list (168).
Montgomery averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 assists in his four years as a Spartan. In 1991-92, he averaged 7.0 points and 6.3 assists as a senior co-captain, leading his team to a 22-8 mark and the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Montgomery was also a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree during his playing days as a Spartan.
Following his collegiate career, Montgomery played four years of professional basketball in Europe. He averaged more than 25 points a game during his time playing in Germany, Lithuania and Sweden.
Montgomery received his bachelor's degree in food industry management from Michigan State. He and his wife, Alexandra, have a son, Nicholas.