Created:Wednesday, November 11, 2009 10:55 p.m.CDT
Updated:Wednesday, November 11, 2009 10:59 p.m.CDT

Rucker signs with NIU


Jermaine Johnson repeated it three times and then offered an illustration.

"He's a beast," Johnson said. "He's a beast. He. Is. A. Beast."

Johnson was talking about Nate Rucker, a a 6-foot-6, 245-pound forward from Melrose High School in Memphis, Tenn., who signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at Northern Illinois on Wednesday.

Johnson, the Melrose coach, continued.

"The other day in practice he caught one off the rim and dunked it," he said, "glass shattered everywhere. The rim was torn up. He's that strong."

Rucker didn't know what to do after his glass-breaking putback.

"It shocked me," Rucker said. "l just went up and got it. I was just shocked. I didn't know what to say."

That kind of power and ability to bring an element of toughness is exactly what the Huskies hope Rucker can bring when his eligibility begins in the 2010-11 season.

"He's a very explosive basketball player and a guy that I think will be really good in our league," NIU coach Ricardo Patton said.

Rucker said his biggest strengths as a player are his post game and his ability to rebound.

“I like to play inside with my back to the basket, usually within eight feet or so," Rucker said. "One of my goals this season is to improve both my step-back game and my ball handling.”

Rucker averaged 12.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game during his junior season, leading Melrose to a berth in the regional championships. He said he chose Northern Illinois because he liked the coaching staff and NIU was a good college environment for him.

It's of little surprise that a player from the Memphis area ended up signing for Patton, a native of Tennessee. Senior forward Najul Ervin hails from Memphis. Assistant coach Will Smith, another Memphis native who also played for Patton at Colorado, was heavily involved in landing Rucker.

"Will Smith did a terrific job, he kind of spearheaded the recruiting of Nate. I don't know when I've not had a player on the roster from Memphis on any team I've coached," Patton said. "Guys from the city, they've played against stiff competition, they just kind of know how to play. He just fits that mold."

NIU has one more scholarship available for the late signing period, or to utilize in future recruiting classes.

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