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Northern Michigan University Wildcats men’s basketball team set to tip off with new coaches, without GLIAC’s top 2 scorers

Northern Michigan University’s Sam Taylor, left, tries to drive by Bay College’s Ryan Robinette during their exhibition game played in Escanaba on Oct. 24. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Austin Hemmingson)

MARQUETTE — A new era begins this weekend for the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team.

Head coach Bill Sall and his assistant coaches Charles Belt and Terry Nash are gone as are two-time All-GLIAC First Team honorees Naba Echols and Isaiah Johnson.

Each played a big role in turning around a program that was stuck at the bottom of the GLIAC North standings for numerous years.

The new head coach is Matt Majkrzak, who says he likes what he’s seen so far from his team.

“The guys have been super open to being coached,” he said Tuesday. “They’ve been really receptive and I think that’s always a challenge your first year to see how much everyone is going to embrace the new culture and the new style and the new message….

Northern Michigan University's Sam Taylor, right, looks for a pass around Purdue Northwest's Brennan Schofield during their GLIAC men's basketball game played Dec. 6 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Cory Genovese/NMU Athletics)

“They’re very open and a lot of first-year coaches talk about how ‘I need my guys.’ These guys already are my guys. They’ve done everything we’ve asked. They couldn’t be more happy with my commitment and change, which I think they knew they needed, not even to do with the coaching change. They just knew there were going to be changes anyway.”

There’s a still a big question mark — who provides scoring with Echols and Johnson gone? They were two of the most potent scorers in school history, so the Wildcats lose a huge chunk of their offense. However, Majkrzak thinks there are guys who can pick up the slack.

“Who were those guys again?” Majkrzak joked. “Were they good? Obviously, anytime you lose Naba and Isaiah, you’re going to have a lot of change, especially scoring the ball.

“We have a really unique team this year … because we have so many returners who have played a lot of games. Maybe not a lot of games in the league, but that’s completely different when you lose the two guys that kind of made all those things happen.

“So we’re going to need other guys to step up in a lot of ways, but then we’re also going to need to be a different team. We’re going to need to share the ball and we’re not going to be able to go to one guy like we have in the past….

Northern Michigan University's Myles Howard, top left, and Troy Summers, top right, team up to block the shot of Saginaw Valley State's Sebastiano Lamanato, center, in the first half of their game played Feb. 7 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“I think Sam (Taylor) and Myles (Howard) are both guys that are returning and going to play a lot of minutes, but Alec (Fruin) and Troy (Summers) are probably going to have more of a scoring punch to them and will be definitely counted on to step up and play a big role.

“I think Alec’s one of the more interesting ones. He started some games last year down the stretch at the power forward spot even though he’s about 6-foot-2, and this year we’re looking at him playing a lot of point guard.”

Offense may be a question mark, but defense could be an advantage as Taylor and Howard are two-time All-GLIAC Defensive Team honorees.

“Myles is the best defensive player I’ve seen at the D-II level in my six years there,” Majkrzak said. “It’s not just his physical ability, which I think I knew about coming into it. It’s the way he communicates to teammates and it’s the way he leads. It’s his toughness and his consistency with his work day in and day out.

“Sam and Alex chased around a lot of the best players in the league last year and did a great job of it.

“I think we have a lot of individually talented defenders. Kind of similar to offense, our schemes changed a little bit. We’re going to be a lot more team defense-based.”

As far as newcomers go, Majkrzak says Noah Parcher and Xzavier Jones are the two guys who could see the most playing time due to their games being college ready. He does say he’s open-minded on who will be in the rotation.

“I think we have an idea of it, but I don’t think it’s set in stone,” he said.

Northern plays Lewis today and host school McKendree on Sunday at the GLIAC/Great Lakes Valley Conference Challenge in Lebanon, Illinois.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.