Nov. 3, 2009
DEKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois men's and women's basketball teams held their annual media day festivities at the Convocation Center Tuesday, previewing the upcoming 2009-10 campaigns. NIUHuskies.com has you covered with all the angles.
HEAD COACH Ricardo Patton PRESS CONFERENCE
"It's still an honor to be the basketball coach at Northern Illinois University. I think our program is primed to take on a new look, and to meet new challenges this season. I'd also like to let you all know; you see some of our players and coaches arriving here a little bit late. One of our players, Mike DiNunno, whose family has been devastated by the loss of three grandparents in the last month or so, is not with us today. His grandfather suddenly passed on his mother's side last week, so our players and our coaches wanted to go to the funeral today, and be supportive of one of their teammates.
"But as they start to come in, I would like to introduce my staff (introduces assistant coaches Will Smith and Sundance Wicks, director of basketball operations Kent Dernbach and assistant coach Todd Townsend). In putting together a staff, what you hope to do is to put together a group of guys that bring a wealth of experience and knowledge about the game, knowledge in which they can share with our players. Having two guys that have either been a part of a staff or a team that played in the Final Four (Dernbach and Townsend), I think, is great information for our guys to have access to."
On the progression of the preseason up to this point
On the first exhibition game versus Aurora on November 1
"Our guys came back in the fall determined to be better than they were last year. They did a nice job in the weight room; they are stronger. Our strength and conditioning program really paid dividends for our players; they took advantage of the weight room with the Yordon Center, which is the best access to a weight room you could possibly have on any college campus. The guys came back with a focus and a determination. Practices have been extremely physical and have gone well."
"The first exhibition game, against Aurora, in having a chance to look back at the film; I saw a lot of really good things. I also saw a number of things that we have to continue to get better at, particularly on the defensive end."
On the lineup differences from the 2008-09 season
"I think if you come and watch us play this year, you'll see a different group on the floor with the addition of Xavier Silas, and Sean Kowal being much-improved; plus Tony Nixon, a bright young freshman we have in the program, who did some nice things in our exhibition game (Sunday)."
On the 2009-10 non-conference schedule
"Having the chance to play against three Big Ten opponents, starting out opening weekend at Northwestern, will be great for our program. I'd also like to compliment coach Carmody from Northwestern for being willing to come back here to the Convocation Center next year. Having sat on that side (Carmody's), sometimes it can be very difficult to get those types of opponents to return those games to your arena.
"As we said coming into taking over the program, we wanted to schedule the top teams in our state. If you look, we're playing Illinois for the first time, which really blows my mind that Northern Illinois has never had a game with Illinois. But we're going there; hopefully sometime in the near future, we can get Illinois to come here, and play in the `Convo.' We're also going to Minnesota.
"But coming here to the Convo, we have teams like Bradley, who hasn't been here in quite some time; we have also renewed a home-and-home series with UIC, which I think is a great game to play. Temple will also come here this year; so I think our schedule will give our players an opportunity to identify early what our strengths and our weaknesses are. We will have an accurate barometer of where we are, and what we need to work on once we get into our conference. It will also give our guys an opportunity to play in front of multiple environments, so when we get into our league, there shouldn't be any environment that causes us to rattle."
On the preseason expectations, including being picked second in the MAC-West
"We're excited about this year. As you may know, some publications have picked us to finish first (in the MAC-West), and some have picked us to finish second. I haven't put a lot of stock in preseason picks in the past, so I won't this year, but I do think it's a compliment to our program that people believe we have improved. I think they are pretty accurate in that assessment."
After introducing the players in attendance (Ante Dzepina, Najul Ervin, Jeremy Landers and Xavier Silas)...
"I believe, and I have expressed this openly to our team; our success will in large part be based on how well Najul Ervin plays for us this season. A lot of attention has been given to guys like Xavier Silas and Sean Kowal, but as I watch our team perform, even last season, we were best when Najul Ervin played hard and played well for us. That may be putting a little pressure on Najul, but as a senior, we expect him to handle that pressure."
Sophomore guard Bryan Hall
On the expectations for this season
"I have pretty high hopes for this year. A lot of us got that valued year of experience; now we have a couple newcomers with `X' (Xavier Silas), Tony Nixon, Antone Christian, Keith Smith. Now I think we should be ready to turn that corner and make a run to see if we can get to the NCAA Tournament."
On the challenging non-conference schedule
"I think it will prepare us for the MAC games, get us a little seasoned. It's kind of throwing us in the fire early, but I think it will all pay off in the end and help us compete at the highest level during the MAC season."
On the possible pressure on the team due to the expectations
"I think we're OK. Since we have a little experience right now, we know what's going to happen. We know how to prepare ourselves, how to work hard and be ready for every game and every challenge."
On preseason preparations
"We've been working out since the first official practice and it's been hard work, hard work, hard work preparing for the tough schedule we have."
Senior center Ante Dzepina
Thoughts on the season and expectations
"Expectations are much higher. Last year we were a really young team; we didn't play long enough together with a lot of freshmen. We're all friends and that feels really good. Expectations are high and the first exhibition game showed how good we can be, but there's a lot to work on, especially on defense."
On strengths of the team
"We've been playing together really well in practice. The freshmen are playing better. The sophomores are playing much more mature. "
On other things to work on before the season starts
"I would say, again, defense and turnovers. The big guys have to work on the rebounds and other things that help you win games."
On Xavier Silas
"Last year I met him for the first time and I couldn't wait all year for him to start to play. It feels so good to play with him. It feels like he's everywhere. He's a really good teammate, on the court, off the court. He's an amazing player and an amazing person."
Junior guard Jeremy Landers
On his leadership role, being an upperclassman
"After being here for three years, I'm trying to be a leader so I can have the younger guys follow in the footsteps. I feel that we laid a foundation and we are hoping to build off that."
On the schedule
"I'm very excited about these bigger non-conference games. I definitely think it's going to prepare us for the MAC season. That is most important, getting prepared for our conference, to take those steps."
On the team's goals
"Some of our team goals are to improve our defense, improve our free throw shooting, improve our communication, playing together. I think our biggest obstacle this season will be ourselves. If we learn how to play together, things will be a lot smoother."
On Xavier Silas
"He's been a great teammate. He makes it a lot easier for us. He grabs a lot of attention, by scoring 30 points against Aurora, a lot of people are going to be focused on him, and then it opens up a lot of shots for other people. Being that we already know we can score, it will make the game a lot easier, I believe."
Sophomore forward Tyler Storm
On expectations for this season
"I don't think it really makes any difference, except that knowing that we should beat teams. Last year, we were young, and maybe we were expected to lose more. But, this year, we think we can beat anyone we go out on the court with."
On non-conference games
"I'm really excited about a lot of the games. We've got three Big Ten games; it's real exciting and real good for us to prepare for the MAC. Definitely the biggest team goal is winning the MAC."
On Xavier Silas
"I enjoy being around `X' a lot; he's a real fun guy. As far as helping the team, I think that he can do a lot. It makes it harder for the opponents with a guy that can flat-out score and it's tough to stop him, so it will open up a lot of things for everybody else, too."
Junior guard Michael Patton
"I think our whole team mentality is different in terms of expectations for ourselves and our awareness of the expectations of people around us. So, we just go out and practice every day and try to work hard; and try and remind ourselves of those expectations, to try to live up to them."
On the large amount of guards on the team
"As of now we don't know the exact rotation. The next exhibition game (Friday versus Marygrove College) will play with more rotations. As the season goes on, I'm sure we will have a set rotation; but as of now we just kind of play with it, put different people together, different combinations. We have a lot of depth at that position, so it's a good problem to have."
On the tough non-conference games
"I think they are good for our program, getting fans excited about our program. Also, for us getting ready for the MAC season, playing opponents like that can only prepare you for the better, when you get into conference play, and that's what really matters."