The Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team is getting a jump on the 2022-2023 season, playing three games in Canada this week to get some early practice time for the upcoming season.
The first game of the trip was Tuesday against Windsor and continues Thursday against Ottawa and Friday against Toronto Metropolitain.
Second-year coach Rashon Burno said getting some extra practice was important for him and the Huskies, coming off a 9-21 season last year.
“The trip in itself is really predicated on the 10 practices. We wanted to get a chance to see our guys in competition,” Burno said. “I love the guys, I love the energy, I love the athleticism, the talent is there. We are trying to help these guys forge unbelievable relationships off the floor and the 10 practices allow you to do that a lot earlier than when the season starts.”
Those bonus practices have showed Burno what the team has in its newcomers behind returning players like Keshawn Williams, who averaged 16.3 points per game last season and was honorable mention on the all-MAC team.
“The guys are very talented, Zarique Nutter, 6-foot-6, three/four (small forward/power forward), David Coit is going to be a prolific scorer at the point guard position, can really shoot it and run the team,” Burno said. “Taku Youngblood is an unbelievable talent with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, he can really get out in transition and finish. Xavier Amos is uber-talented but still a freshman, good player, his upside is tremendous.”
No other returning player other than Williams averaged double figures in scoring last season, but Burno said he likes the growth of a lot of the returning players.
“I met with Darweshi Hunter right before the end of the school year, gave him some goals, and he has knocked it out of the park. He has had unbelievable focus and is in great shape. He worked on his mobility and is looking like a different player. Anthony Crump is looking like a different player. Kaleb (Thornton) is playing extremely well at the point guard spot, playing alongside David (Coit), he is really pushing KT a lot harder than he was pushed last year.”
Burno said getting his young team some experience in the extracurriculars that come with a road trip are more valuable than the games themselves.
“Being able to practice, be in the locker room, on the road for a 4–5-hour bus ride, hotels, all of that is tremendous,” Burno said. “You can really get to know the guys away from the game of basketball, doing some fun things. That is the point of these foreign tours, they give you a leg up, they allow you a head start on building that rapport. We are going to try to get full usage out of it. We have a lot of things planned. We are going to spend a lot of time together and really get to know each other so that we have a head start when school starts, and we are getting closer to the regular season.”