Northern Illinois Men's Basketball Welcomes Back Eight Letterwinners,
Adds Five Newcomers Back For 2004-05 Season
DeKalb, IL --
Youth will again reign for the Northern Illinois University mens
basketball program this season as the Huskies have just one rostered
senior (Johnathan Byrd) for the upcoming 2004-05 campaign and 10
of 13 players in either their first or second year of eligibility.
Last season, nine of 13 players were in their first or second year
with Rob Judsons program as the Huskies suffered through the
accustomary growing pains that come with putting a number of young,
inexperienced players on the floor. Despite boasting another group
of diaper dandies, the bulk of Judsons Huskies return to the
hardwood a year older and a year wiser and will look to push their
way up the Mid-American Conference standings.
The key for our team will be their development in terms of
maturity, Judson said. We have a group of juniors that
have been through two seasons here and they understand what it takes
to get prepared for this level. Everyone else is in their first
or second year with the program and their ability to adjust to this
level of basketball will dictate how much they are able to progress.
Versatility has been the key word when talking about the Northern
Illinois lineup during the Judson regime and this seasons
Huskies will be no different. Regardless of position, the Huskies
have interchangeable parts all over the floor, including size on
the perimeter (four swing players over 6-foot-5) and shooting ability
in the post. NIUs top two three-point shooters last season
both stand at least 6-foot-7 as Todd Peterson (6-foot-8) led the
club with 60 three-point makes and Paige Paulsen (6-foot-7) hit
treys at a team-leading rate of 46.7 percent (14-of-30).
With eight returning letterwinners joining five talented newcomers,
Judsons fourth season in DeKalb could be the most exciting,
especially locally. The Northern Illinois roster is once again made
up predominantly of in-state talent, as 11-of-13 players hail from
the state of Illinois and the Chicagoland area. Byrd (Chicago Morgan
Park) and freshman Frank Clair (Chicago Leo High School) give the
Huskies representation from the city of Chicago. High School teammates
Zach Pancratz and Craig Reichel (Schaumburg) join Anthony Maestranzi
(Bartlett) in representing the Northwest suburbs, while Ryan Paradise
is from the West suburb of Naperville (Naperville Central) and Mike
McKinney hails from the North suburb of Evanston (Evanston Township).
Bryson McKenzie (Gary, IN/West Side) comes from the Eastside of
Chicago, and Peterson (Pekin) gives NIU downstate representation
to go with James Hughes (Silvis, IL/East Moline United) Quad
City connections. Although he will redshirt the 2004-05 season,
Ben Rand (Rochelle) will drum up even more local interest. The University
of Iowa transfer spent his prep playing days in nearby Rochelle,
IL, located 15 miles west of the NIU campus. Only two players, Paige
Paulsen (Custer, SD) and Cory Sims (Livingston, AL) fail to fall
within 150 miles of NIUs campus and even Sims has state ties,
playing his junior college basketball at Lewis & Clark Community
College in Godfrey, IL, a suburb of St. Louis, MO.
That aforementioned versatility steps to the forefront when
talking about the Northern Illinois backcourt this season. Judsons
squad can work a group of six players into either backcourt slot
with returners Maestranzi, McKinney and Paradise providing an excellent
nucleus until newcomers Sims, Clair and Pancratz are ready to step
A junior, Maestranzi started 20 games last season while logging
27.2 minutes a contest, third on the team during the 2003-04 season
and tops among returning performers. A deadly shooter from the perimeter
(37 percent from three), Maestranzi was also the teams top
playmaker in 2004, handing out 113 assists to break Donald Whitesides
1989 record for sophomore dimes. The Bartlett, IL, product also
finished fourth on the team in scoring (6.9 ppg.) and reached double
figures nine times. Maestranzis top offensive output came
in a Feb. 9 contest at Central Michigan when he poured in a career
high 19 points on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. Maestranzis
assist/turnover ratio also hovered around 2:1 all season and he
dished out five or more assists on 10 occasions, including a career-high
tying seven assists without a turnover in a Feb. 28 road win (67-61)
at Eastern Michigan.
Anthony (Maestranzi) wasnt at 100-percent for most of
last season, Judson said. He was playing with a pelvic
injury much of the year and he battled through the pain quite admirably.
The heart and toughness Anthony showed really got the attention
of his teammates and they have a great deal of respect for him because
McKinney saw his on-court identity change dramatically throughout
his rookie campaign. Considered a high-flying athlete early in his
first season, the Evanston, IL, native shouldered the burden of
being the teams top defender during Mid-American Conference
play, silencing a number of the leagues top guns. While his
point production held consistent, McKinney did the little things
to increase his playing time. In addition to his defensive prowess,
McKinney was also the teams top rebounding guard, finishing
third on the squad with 47 offensive rebounds and fourth on the
crew in overall boards. His 49 assists were third on the team and
his 17 steals ranked fifth. Although he averaged 19.0 minutes on
the season, McKinney moved into the starting lineup late in the
campaign and averaged 25.2 minutes over the last 10 games.
Mike (McKinney) took on the role of being one of our top perimeter
defenders last season and that was a big reason for his increased
minutes, Judson said. He was a good rebounder last season,
but we expect that to improve because of his offseason training.
He spent the summer working hard on his strength and that should
enhance his ability to play more minutes and will benefit his overall
While an offseason in the weight room has coaches excited about
the progression of McKinney, injury troubles continue to hamper
the development of fellow sophomore Paradise. Last season, Paradise
was tops among rookies in minutes played through the first 14 games
until a left-wrist injury (shooting hand) forced the guard to the
sideline. Oringinally suffered during his senior season at Naperville
Center High School, Paradise suffered another setback with his wrist
at the start of the summer, putting his availability for the start
of the 2004-05 up in the air. A tough-minded perimeter performer
when healthy, a return by Paradise will give NIU another creator
off the bounce and add depth to both backcourt slots. Typically
a solid shooter, Paradise shot just 19 percent from 3-point range
and just 28 percent from the floor as a freshman, numbers that were
obviously hampered by the injury to his shooting wrist.
Ryan had a real setback with his wrist this summer and was
forced into another surgery, Judson said. A wrist injury
is tricky and the recovery time isnt definite. We are taking
Ryans injury day-by-day and well see where he stands
when practice begins this fall.
The final Huskie addition to the 2004 recruiting class, Sims is
capable of playing both backcourt slots after turning in All-America
numbers at Lewis & Clark Community College last season. A transfer
who will be a junior eligibility wise, Sims recorded norms of 22.6
points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists in leading LCCC to a seventh-place
finish at the National Junior College Athletics Association Division
II National Tournament. A First Team Division II All-American, Sims
was also named the top guard at the NJCAA summit and ranked No.
7 nationally in scoring and No. 31 nationally in steals.
Cory (Sims) gives us a creative offensive player that can
run both guard spots, Judson said. He is a capable shooter,
but does an excellent job of getting to the basket. He has a knack
for getting to opportune spots on the floor and creating opportunities
for his teammates.
NIU also added a pair of prep standouts to the backcourt in Pancratz
and Clair. Both players bring excellent size to the backcourt and
have the ability to play both the 2-guard and wing positions.
Clair comes to DeKalb after leading Chicago Leo High School to the
IHSA Class A State crown last March. Named MVP of the Class A summit,
Clair carried the Lions to the crown, scoring 25 points on 10-of-13
shooting in the title game. He averaged 17.0 points throughout the
three-game tourney and was named to the Class A all-state squad
following an outstanding season in which he averaged 14.3 points
and 6.9 boards a game.
As is the case with many incoming freshman, strength training
will be key for Frank (Clair), Judson said. Hes
a skilled player that will be able to do a number of things for
Like Clair, Pancratz earned all-state recognition after leading
Schaumburg to a 23-6 overall mark last season and an appearance
in the IHSA Class AA Sectional finals. A 20.3 ppg. scorer, Pancratz
also grabbed 5.8 rebounds a game while handing out 5.5 assists.
A second team all-state pick by the Chicago-Sun Times and the Chicago
Tribune, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard earned all-area honors from
the Arlington Heights Daily Herald and was an All-Northwest Suburban
choice by the Pioneer Press. In addition to possessing excellent
size, Pancratz possesses a soft shooting touch and owns the Schaumburg
single-game record with eight three-point makes in a game and owns
the school career record for three-pointers with 180. He also ranks
second in career scoring with 1,531 points.
Zach loves the game of basketball, Judson said. Hes
a gym rat. Hes constantly working on improving his game and
thats why hes such a successful player.
Although he wont be eligible until the 2005-06 season, Rand
will make an immediate impact for the team in practice, giving the
Huskies a physical perimeter presence as a member of the scout team.
Rand was considered by many recruiting gurus to be a Top 100
player nationally and began his collegiate career at the University
of Iowa last season before transferring to NIU over the summer.
Were excited with the talent we were able to add to
our backcourt, Judson said. We wont have Ben (Rand)
on the court this season, but his contributions on the practice
floor wont go unnoticed.
One attribute of Rob Judson-coached teams has been size, and
in his fourth season, Judsons squad has a pair of players
taller than 6-foot-10, another standing 6-foot-9 and five others
6-foot-6 or better. The NIU front line is the beneficiary of six
of those eight players as the 6-foot-11 Hughes and 6-foot-10 McKenzie
give Northern Illinois one of its tallest front lines in recent
The leagues top returning shot blocker, Hughes ranked among
the nations leaders (46th) last season after blocking 1.8
shots a game. The NIU freshman record holder with 53 blocks, Hughes
finished second in the league in swats and No. 6 nationally among
rookies. While he was initially put on the floor for his defensive
prowess, the Silvis, IL, natives offensive game improved dramatically
throughout the year, as he made 14 starts, and averaged 4.9 points
and 3.4 boards. Hughes also led the team in field-goal percentage
(60.6 percent) and was among the teams top free throw shooters,
connecting at a 68.8-percent clip.
The key for James (Hughes) will be his ability to stay on
the floor, Judson said. Whether it was because of foul
trouble or stamina, James wasnt able to play extended minutes.
The longer he can stay on the floor in an effective role, the better
off this team will be in the post.
A preseason knee injury kept McKenzie out of action most of the
year and allowed the hard-working center just 28 minutes of playing
time over six games in early December. Despite missing his second
season in three years, McKenzie is expected to bolster the NIU interior
and provide plenty of depth at the center position along with Hughes
and the lone NIU senior, Johnathan Byrd.
It was huge to get the 2003-04 season back for Bryson,
Judson said. He worked extremely hard prior to the season,
but then really lost the year before it ever got going. He continues
to rehab the knee and once healthy, he will be a contributing presence
for our club in the post.
A long, athletic post presence, Byrd gave NIU a defensive boost
off the bench in 27 games and was a catalyst in a Feb. 28 road win
at Eastern Michigan. Against the Eagles, Byrd played 17 minutes
and scored six points while coming away with a key steal late in
the game to help seal the win.
The first season is always tough for a transfer, Judson
said. We saw Johnathan (Byrd) go through some growing pains
that come for any player in his first season with a program. I think
this offseason benefitted Johnathan as much as anyone, because he
now knows what to expect from Division I basketball and how to prepare
While NIU could slide McKenzie or Byrd over to fit the more traditional
role of a power forward, it could also use the combination of Peterson,
Paulsen and Reichel to add another scorer to the mix and create
matchup problems for its opponents.
The teams top three-point shooter last season, Peterson led
the squad with 60 treys and connected from beyond the arc at a 36-percent
clip. Third on the team in scoring in 2003-04 and NIUs top
returning point producer, the 6-foot-8 Peterson averaged 7.4 points
last season and topped double-figures in scoring eight times, while
making 21 starts. Petersons high-point contest came against
Illinois State (Nov. 26) when he lit up the Redbirds for 19 points
on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range. Peterson also finished
second in school history with at least one three-point make in 24
consecutive contests and hit multiple treys 17 times including four
or more treys on five occasions.
(Peterson) will be a very skilled, face-the-basket 4-man,
Judson said. Well be playing more of a motion offense
this season and that plays to the strength of our personnel. The
motion scheme will allow Todd to get some looks from the perimeter
as well as underneath the basket.
Like Peterson, Paulsen initially found his niche from beyond the
arc, finishing the year as the teams most accurate three-point
shooter. A 47-percent shooter on the year from bonus distance, Paulsen
developed his all-around game as the season progressed and earned
a pair of starts in MAC play. After averaging only 5.5 minutes of
playing time through the first-two months of the season, Paulsen
made his first significant contribution at Akron (Jan. 7) with six
points and then poured in a then-career high 12 points at Ball State
(Jan. 20). Although he finished the season averaging 3.5 points
in 11.0 minutes of playing time, the Custer, SD, natives numbers
rose considerably in the MAC, as he reached double figures in scoring
three times, including a career high 14 points at Central Michigan
As with Johnathan (Byrd), I think the offseason was very beneficial
for Paige (Paulsen), Judson said. The improved strength
was key for him. He was a good shooter from the perimeter last season,
but with the added strength, hell be able to make more contributions
with regards to rebounding and on defense.
While Reichel has the ability to step on the perimeter and hit an
open jumper like Peterson and Paulsen (35-percent from 3-point range
as a senior), the 6-foot-8, 230-pound power forward also has the
size and strength to bang with some of the larger bodies in the
league. A 17.4 ppg. scorer as a senior, Reichel led the Saxons with
9.1 rebounds a game and finished as the programs career rebounding
leader with 662 career boards. He also claimed single-season (82)
and career (249) records for blocked shots by the time he capped
his prep tenure. A fourth-team all-state choice by the IBCA, Reichel
earned honorable mention all-state accolades by the Chicago Sun-Times
and Chicago Tribune and was selected to the all-area teams by the
Arlington Heights Daily Herald and the Pioneer Press.
Craig (Reichel) is going to be a great player in this league
by the time he graduates, Judson said. He brings impressive
size to the floor and is skilled enough to do some things on the
perimeter. As he gets stronger, we feel Criag will be one of the
more versatile posts in the Mid-American Conference.
The next installment of the Northern Illinois Men's Basketball season
preview will be the releasing of the team's 2004-05 non-conference
schedule, followed by the releasing of the Mid-American Conference