Friday, November 19, 1999

Norse back in full force

NKU expected to vie for Division II title

Enquirer contributor

        Last year's Northern Kentucky University men's basketball team maximized its ability but basically ran out of bodies as the season wore on. So, how ironic is it that if the Norse have a problem this preseason, it's too much depth?

        “It's a good problem to have,” senior point guard Kevin Listerman said. Listerman is one of five key players who weren't in uniform a year ago who are available for tonight's 7:45 season opener with Thomas More. NKU posted a 16-12 record last year and missed out on the NCAA Division II Tournament after going to the title game in 1996 and '97 and reaching the second round in '98.

        Listerman chose to redshirt last year, in part because it appeared this season would offer a better chance of making another run at the Division II national title. The Norse are preseason favorites in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, probably the top Division II league in the nation.

        But first things first: All this talent needs sorting out.

        “Day to day right now, we're taking different looks and trying to ascertain what roles everyone fits in best for the betterment of the team,” coach Ken Shields said.

        On the perimeter, he has almost an embarrassment of riches. Junior Craig Conley (15.7 ppg in '99) proved himself a capable alternative to Listerman at the point last year. Now, he and Listerman, NKU's leaders in assists and steals in '98, will share time.

        At the two wing positions, NKU has three more quality options in last year's GLVC Freshman of the Year, Craig Sanders (16.6 ppg), junior Brian Lawhon (12.7 ppg) and 6-foot-6 senior Scott Marston (10.9 ppg in '98), healthy again after a medical redshirt year for elbow trouble. Conley also can slide to a wing, and freshman Brenden Stowers, a Simon Kenton graduate, has been so impressive in preseason that he is making a bid to join the perimeter mix.

        “We've really got some prolific shooters out there,” Shields said. “I've never had so many good shooters. We had teams with Paul Cluxton and Shannon Minor, but to have so many is something special.”

        Listerman, at point, has a dilemma. How will he keep so many wings happy?

        “You've got to know that each shooter has a special forte,” he said. “Craig Sanders is good at catching the ball in transition and hitting the three. Lawhon probably is our best shooter out of our pattern offense. Marston is one of those guys who does best when you pitch it out to him off penetration.”

        Last year's team was hurt in particular by a lack of inside size. New bodies have strengthened that area.

        The three mainstays at the two interior positions figure to be 6-6 holdover Adam Norwell (12.3 ppg, team-best 7.8 rpg) and newcomers Zach Wieber, a 6-9, 235-pound transfer from Bowling Green, and Billy Brewster, a 6-7, 195-pound junior-college transfer.

        “I think a big key is going to be Zach,” Conley said. “We need him to step up day in and day out. What killed us last year is not having a big guy, so we need him to bang inside for us.”

        Brewster is not as physical as Cliff Clinton, the junior-col lege player who was a force in '97 and '98, but is a lanky forward with size and the ability to get out and run the floor.

        One big benefit from all the depth is that NKU will be decidedly less conservative than a year ago.

        “We're definitely going to play an uptempo game, which our players and fans like,” Shields said. “We'll be a man-to-man team defensively primarily, but maybe we're go ing to pick people up higher on the floor this year.”

        It reads like a complete team. What remains is for the Norse to sort out the details.

        “Last year, we had a lot of young guys and a lot of guys trying to fill big roles,” Listerman said. “This year, those guys know the system a lot better, and it's now a matter of just trying to get everyone in the right spot.”


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