4-0 and looking for more: Men’s Basketball


The NMU men’s basketball team has one date circled on its calendar, and it’s March 9.

Not only is it circled on the calendar, it’s written on thick white athletic tape, on the backboard in the PEIF practice gym, signed in green Sharpie by every member of the team, the coaching staff and even the athletic department staff; the numbers “03-9-09” surrounded by the signatures of those looking to make it happen.

This Wildcats’ team is focused.

“That’s when we find out if we get inducted,” freshman guard Raymont McElroy said. “That’s going to be our first day of practice if we get into the NCAA tournament. And that’s our motivation, right there. Just looking at that, every day when we come into practice.”

Having started the season unbeaten (4-0), and picking up an important regional win against the University of Minnesota-Duluth, a confident NMU basketball team now embarks on the brunt of this year’s schedule. In total, the Wildcats have nine games over the semester break, eight conference games along with one non-conference matchup.

And head coach Dean Ellis said the best basketball is ahead.

“We improved since our fourth game, I can tell watching in practice,” he said. “Part of that is confidence, but part of that is everybody settling into our system. We’ve got some great basketball ahead of us.”

Starting Thursday, the team has three-straight GLIAC road games, and Ellis said the road stretch will be a good opportunity to test the team, which features two freshmen, center Jared Benson and McElroy, in important roles.

“I would rather (go on the road),” Ellis said. “If you can go out on the road and win and then come back home with a couple wins underneath you, you’re really in good shape.

“You need to win road games to win the league,” he added.

Senior forward Tyler Kazmierkoski said while the two red-shirt freshmen will be on their first collegiate road trip with the team, McElroy and Benson aren’t typical first-year players.

“Ray and Jared, yeah they’re freshmen, but those two are real special freshmen,” Kazmierkoski said. “Not many could sit there and walk into a team and play in games like we have and start off 4-0. They’ve handled it.”

McElroy currently leads the team in assists, with 14, and minutes played, averaging 33.2 an outing. He also sits at third on the team in scoring, averaging 10 points per game. Kazmierkoski is the second leading scorer (13.8 points per game), with junior transfer guard Marc Renelique leading all scorers with 17.3 points. Benson, who’s started two of the four games, is third on the team in rebounds (5.3 per game) and second in blocked shots (3).

“As he learns more and more about what we need him to do, he’s going to get better by the minute,” Ellis said about Benson.

Junior guard Chris Warner will be in the starting lineup for the road trip, alongside Renelique, McElroy, Kazmierkoski and either Benson or senior forward Kyle Greene. For Warner, his offensive start to the season has been a bit slow, averaging 6.5 points. He said, after the injury, things are coming back, but slowly.

“These couple games have helped me to assess myself with where I need to improve – in terms of instincts, reaction plays,” Warner said.

“It was a good test, but I still think I have a ways to go,” he added.

When asked what to expect when he’s at full strength again, Warner smiled.

“Only good things,” he said. “Only good things.”