DeKALB – The bus tires roll over mile after mile of pavement. The scenery between Mid-American Conference arenas is in constant flux. But the departure time of the Northern Illinois’ men’s basketball team bus for a night game remains unchanged.
Every road game the Huskies depart their hotel at 5:30 p.m., board the team bus and drive to the arena. The pregame travel routine is part of how coach Ricardo Patton readies the Huskies for a game.
“All the structure and routine is trying to teach players how to prepare for competition,” Patton said. “We are limiting some of the distractions that might occur.”
There is more to the travel routine than just a predictable departure time. NIU boards the bus in total silence. With their minds stoically focused on the game, no one speaks the entire ride. It’s a routine as predictable as the sunrise; players know they will always leave at the same time and travel in silence.
“We want players focused going from the hotel to the arena,” Patton said. “There is no talking or communication. I don’t even like headphones to be too loud, some players like it quiet and some like music. But I don’t think someone that wants it quiet should have to hear someone else’s music. That is pretty traditional.”
To NIU director of basketball operations Kent Dernbach, pregame routines are as important as establishing a regular sleep cycle. With a regular bed time that ensures eight hours of sleep before a morning alarm, people can enhance their ability to wake up refreshed.
Because Dernbach doesn’t want players to take the court feeling like they are in a daze because of a travel snafu, a schedule is set and precisely followed.
“It doesn’t matter what arena or what city you play in, you want players on a schedule,” Dernbach said. “We eat a pregame meal and leave at the same time so players can be comfortable.”
Dernbach is the NIU concierge; he’s in charge of accommodations for a large traveling party. He orchestrates its movement from place to place and keeps the organization flowing seamlessly.
“You’ve got 25 people who all like to be independent,” Dernbach said. “When we get off the bus, everyone’s hotel key is pre-keyed for them. We don’t want any little problems to become big problems. My job is to make sure players and coaches can focus on their jobs and not worry about anything else."