With one season left in his college career, Northern Illinois senior guard Michael Patton has been putting in work this summer to change the team’s fortunes. The guard and son of NIU coach Ricardo Patton spoke with Daily Chronicle sports editor John Sahly on Wednesday to talk about summer workouts, what’s motivating him and the rest of the Huskies and what has changed in and around the team since the end of last season’s 10-20 campaign. The following is an edited transcript.
John Sahly: First, how’s the summer been for you?
Michael Patton: It’s been going well. I’ve been taking some classes and working out with the team. I’m taking three classes, corporate advocacy and issues and a couple of electives. It’s been pretty interesting, I guess you could say.
JS: How have the workouts been going?
MP: The workouts have been going really well. We’ve been working really hard in the weight room. In past years, I felt like a lot of the teams we played, we almost looked like little kids compared to them strength-wise. Our strength coach, Chad Bower, has got a really good program going right now and he has us in there working a lot harder than we have in past years. I think that’s going really well. Basketball-wise, we’re basically playing every day as a team. Everybody’s supposed to be getting in the gym also.
JS: You mentioned working harder than you guys have before, how much of that is the program and how much of that is the motivation for you guys to improve on the past couple of years?
MP: I think the majority of it is the will and the want to to improve. I think last season, especially last season was the most disappointing. My first year here, new coach, new players mixing with older players and different systems, it was a rebuilding year. My second year, we were a very young team. And last year, I think anyone on the team will admit to you, was very disappointing. We had the talent. We had the size. We had really everything we needed and we didn’t put it together like we should have.
We didn’t let our team chemistry grow into anything and that was very disappointing. Especially with this being my senior year, Jeremy Landers’ senior year, Xavier Silas’ senior year, we all want to do better. We don’t want to leave NIU saying ‘What could we have done?’
JS: Have you gotten a chance to see any of the new players (Tim Toler, Nate Rucker, Cameron Madlock and Aksel Bolin?)
MP: Tim Toler is up here. Cameron Madlock and Nate Rucker are all out here. Nate Rucker, as you may know, broke his foot in the (Tennessee) state [tournament]. So he just got cleared to lift yesterday. But he’s supposed to be very promising, great size. Tim Toler is a big man with great feet, a great outside shot and great hands. He’s just a very skilled post player. Cameron Madlock is 6-9, long and athletic.
Our team is looking different than it has in the past year. We’re more athletic. I think we’re definitely going to have to be a run-and-gun team, especially with the loss of [center Sean] Kowal, we don’t have that size advantage that we had in the MAC anymore.
JS: So it’ll probably be a little more spread out then?
MP: It’ll definitely be more spread out. The thing is, the bigs that we do have coming in, we don’t want to shortchange them. But because Kowal is gone, we have to have a much more guard-oriented offense. We did bring in some skilled players and we still have to get the ball inside so we can open it up for the guards. It’s definitely going to be a more athletic team, a run-and-gun type team, but Cameron down there, big Tim down there, Nate Rucker down there, we still have to establish a post presence.
JS: When you heard you landed a player from Norway (Bolin), what did you think?
MP: Actually I was really excited. In prep school I played with a lot of international kids. The majority of them are just really skilled players. I had a chance to see Aksel play, and he’s just a very, very skilled perimeter player, especially at that height it’s going to be a big advantage for us to have him on the perimeter.
JS: Going back to some of the workouts, is there anything specific you feel you’ve gotten better at?
MP: I think the main thing we’ve gotten better at is our team chemistry. If you really look at last year’s games, maybe not looking at the losses against Minnesota and games like that, but if you look at the MAC, the majority of the games were lost by six or seven points or less. A lot of it had to do with team chemistry – not knowing who to get the ball to at the right time, not knowing what this person would do in this situation.
And (this summer) we’re playing everyday and trying to hang out more, trying to do different things together as a team and become not just teammates but friends and close friends. That will really help us and that’s what we lacked the most last year. I think everyone got another year of experience under their belt, which is good. Everyone’s working hard in the weight room. Everyone is working hard on their game, but our x-factor, as we saw last year, is our team chemistry. We’re going to play together as a team and try and grow as a team and care for each other out on the court.
JS: Is there anything memorable or that sticks out where you guys have tried to work on that team chemistry this summer?
MP: We don’t do any lifting workouts – unless there’s a class conflict – by ourselves. Everything is done as a team. We’ve implemented a rule now that if you go to the gym, you’ve got to bring somebody with you. If you can bring somebody else, then bring somebody else. It doesn’t matter if their sleeping or something like that. It’s little things, but I think little things go a long way. Most importantly, everything we’re trying to do, we’re trying to do together.
JS: Is that a new thing this summer?
MP: Yeah. It’s interesting. You would think that it would just be automatic. And it is surprising that it hasn’t been something that we already do. I guess sometimes it takes the worst of situations to help you realize that you’re not really doing things the right way. As players, we felt like our coaches were doing everything they could for us, giving us great scouting reports, trying to recruit good players. We’ve brought in a whole different look on the team. The coaches are doing everything in their power to try and help us as a team and the least we could do is try and do some things as a team and try and do our part.
We have a lot of good senior leadership on the team now. I’m tired of losing. I’m everybody on our team is tired of losing. It’s unfortunate that it’s taken up until my senior year for everybody to realize ‘Hey, it’s time that we need to start doing things right.’ The coaches have preached it, but young minds, we don’t really listen all the time.