Created:Thursday, November 12, 2009 2:28 a.m.CDT
Updated:Thursday, November 12, 2009 3:16 a.m.CDT
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NIU MEN'S BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Silas itching to play again

By JOHN SAHLY - jsahly@daily-chronicle.com
Xavier Silas is anxious to play after transferring from Colorado. (Beck Diefenbach and Rob Winner)

Xavier Silas hasn't played a regular-season game in about 20 months.

That was so long ago that Barack Obama still hadn't won the Democratic party's nomination for president, much less the presidency itself. Jay Cutler was still a Denver Bronco. Brett Favre hadn't retired for the first time.

So one of the best words that describes Silas, now a junior guard for Northern Illinois, as a player is ... experienced?

To be honest, yes.

The transfer from Colorado, who sat out this past season per NCAA rules, has seen an awful lot in his time on and away from the court.

"You can't put a price or a tag on it," Silas said. "You've been places, seen stuff, played against people. I've been everywhere."

Take, for example, this summer. Silas endured a rigorous – and that's putting it lightly – offseason routine in San Francisco with trainer Frank Matrisciano, whose client list included No. 1 NBA draft pick Blake Griffin. His days consisted of running up and down hills of sand, stairs and then playing hours of basketball with college stars and NBA players under former NBA coach Bob Hill.

"It's more mental than anything," Silas said. "The physical training is hard, it does get you better physically. I will take more mental things than anything from that experience."

Go back further and look at his freshman and sophomore seasons at Colorado, going against some of the toughest competition the Big 12 has to offer, Silas averaged 12 points a game as a freshman and 9.7 points a game as a sophomore before leaving the team and transferring to NIU. He's played in legendary places such as Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse and Oklahoma State's Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Yet when it came to Northern Illinois' first exhibition game of the season against Aurora University, Silas was nervous.

"I was nervous, but I think being able to get back on the court, I was just excited and happy," he said. "There were a lot of feelings wrapped up into one."

That's when he drew on his experience, something he often will be doing this season in his return to action.

"I was thinking about being nervous coming out in the game and then I started thinking to myself that there's no point in being nervous because I've done things that are way more nerve-wracking, from Frank to Allen Fieldhouse," Silas said. "I've done a lot more nerve-wracking things.

"So that helped me a lot and that's part of being experienced."

Silas went out and scored 30 points in his first game in an NIU uniform.

"He's just a guy that knows how to score," NIU coach Ricardo Patton said. "He can cause matchup problems with guys that are smaller for sure."

The early question on Silas is whether or not he has his timing back after sitting out for so long, but, so far, the early results have been positive.

"I think he's got it," guard Jake Anderson said. "I don't want to say he's close. I think he's got it."

"It takes you a minute or two to get back into the speed of the game and just the game mode," Patton said. "But I think because he worked so hard in the offseason that he'll get caught up pretty quickly."

The most positive thing coming out of his first exhibition game, though, was the way Silas, noted for his skill to slash into the paint and attack the rim, scored his points. He made it to the free-throw line 13 times and drained 11 of those freebies.

One of NIU's single biggest problems last season was an inability to convert from the charity stripe. If Silas can get there as often and make shots as consistently as he did in his first game, the preseason prognostications of the Huskies seriously competing for the Mid-American Conference West title gain even more credibility.

"Getting to the line is real important because so much stuff comes from getting to the line," Silas said. "That guy gets a foul, the team gets a foul, the bonus is closer. I think getting to the line is essential.

"I just take advantage of what I see. I think that mentality is important but I've just been taught to take advantage of what defenses give me."

That's experience talking, even if he hasn't been able to show it to fans for almost two years.

RELATED LINKS:
Sahly: Undeniably part of the game
Pregame Rituals: Sean Kowal - It's all about the shoes
Pregame Rituals: Ricardo Patton - A routine routine
Pregame Rituals: Najul Ervin - Snooze or lose
Pregame Rituals: Sundance Wicks - Doin' the Dew
Pregame Rituals: Mike DiNunno - 'Feel my pain'

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