Created:Tuesday, January 26, 2010 10:25 p.m.CST

Prep teammates putting friendship aside tonight

NIU freshman guard Tony Nixon (center) guards Eastern Michigan guard Antonio Green during the Huskies' 77-69 victory on Jan. 16 in DeKalb. Nixon and former Seton Academy teammate D.J. Cooper will face off tonight when Ohio comes to the Convocation Center. (Scott Walstrom – NIU Media Services)

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DeKALB – Tony Nixon's excitement for today started last year.

That's when he and Seton Academy teammate D.J. Cooper decided they were going to Mid-American Conference schools with Nixon to Northern Illinois and Cooper to Ohio. The two teams play each other at 7 p.m. today.

"Since last year, when we knew where we were going we were talking about who was going to win," Nixon said. "We've been talking on the phone or on the computer and stuff like that about games and just talking about the season and encouraging each other to get better and help our teams win."

Nixon has carved out a role with the Huskies (8-9, 4-1 MAC West) coming off the bench and averaging 4.5 points a game. Cooper, however, has entered the conversation for MAC Freshman of the Year. He averages 14.6 points a game and leads the Bobcats (10-9, 1-4 MAC East) with 108 assists.

"It's a very good basketball team," NIU coach Ricardo Patton said. "It starts with their point guard D.J. Cooper, a local Chicago kid that really understands how to run the point guard position and run a team."

Nixon is one of the least surprised people at Cooper's immediate success. The two won the Class 2A state title last year at Seton and Nixon credited Cooper transferring from Hales Franciscan as a key reason why.

"He was talking about coming over and once he transferred over, he was just the missing piece of the puzzle," Nixon said. "We had a pure point guard."

Nixon was thrilled to have Cooper as a teammate, even for just a season. The two had played against each other in AAU ball from the fourth grade on through high school and helped build an entertaining rivalry between Seton and Hales before Cooper's transfer.

Today, the pair of players who grew up two minutes from each other in Hazel Crest again will be on opposing sides. Nixon said the pregame will be relatively tame between the two.

"I'll just say what up and talk to him and ask if they're ready," Nixon said, "because we're going to come for them."

The communication between the two has ratcheted up in the past week. Given that this is a game the two have waited on for a year, it's easy to see why.

"The phone's been going off, talking and texting back and forth," Nixon said. "It's nothing personal. We're friends off the court, but Wednesday, there are no friends on the court then. But right after the game we'll be best friends."

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