Changes to staff set ’Cats up for success

Katie Bultman

New coaching staff and players are ready to take on the challenge

The Men's Basketball team used the first week of school as open-gym time, as NCAA rules do not allow coaches this early in season.
The Men’s Basketball team used the first week of school as open-gym time, as NCAA rules do not allow coaches this early in season.

The Wildcats made a few major changes to the men’s basketball program when they brought in a new coaching staff for the upcoming 2013-14 season.
With the announcement in March that Northern Michigan University would not be renewing the contract of former head basketball coach, Doug Lewis, the school was dealt the task of finding a head coach that could bring something new to the table for the Wildcats.
After coming off of a 5-21 overall record in the 2012-13 season, athletic director Forrest Karr led the hiring process that recruited former Ferris State University head coach, Bill Sall.
Sall, who picks up the coaching position after 11 seasons with Ferris State, said the opportunity to coach for NMU has been one that made the move easy for his family.
“It has been a really good transition,” Sall said. “We made the move about mid-July and it has been about as seamless as you could have.”
Newly appointed assistant coaches Bill Hill and Charles Belt also said the transition has been a smooth one, especially with the newest athletes to join the team.
“The first thing that stands out is our guys do a lot together given how many new guys we’ve brought on,” Belt said. “That’s rare chemistry and it’s something we can’t pretend.”
Belt, who played college basketball for Ripon College in Ripon, Wis., most recently coached at Beloit College in Wisconsin as an assistant for five years, and is new to the Marquette area.

Hill is not so new to the program. Hill has early experience with NMU as a former player who holds several records for the men’s basketball team.
After spending the past season as an assistant with the women’s basketball team, Hill now returns to the court on the men’s side, where he had coached with Dean Ellis, ending in 2010.Ellis was the last coach to record a winning record for men’s basketball.
Hill said the new coaching staff has high goals for the team on both the court and in the classroom.
“My core principles are the same as Coach Sall’s, who is definitely a hard worker and whose teams have won by outworking opponents,” Hill said. “A winning record is a possibility and that is something we need to have, but we also need to be representatives of NMU. We need to be students and we are student athletes. The number one goal is a degree.” The men’s basketball team returns only three members from last year’s squad, of which the players include junior guard Spencer Huss, senior forward Michael Smith and sophomore guard Terry Nash. The coaching staff has brought on 12 new members for the 2013 season, all of different age levels.
They said it is going to be tougher this year to note which goals are going to be at the top of their list with the inexperience the team has of both the school and the conference.
“Conference championship is always a goal,” Hill said. “But you have to be realistic. We have 12 new guys that we haven’t started working with yet.”
The NCAA places a rule as to when coaches can practice with their players before the season starts. Due to these regulations, the coaching staff will not have the chance to see their team come together until the week following Labor Day. Sall has been given the summer months, however, to recruit in preparation for the upcoming season. “It went extremely well recruiting, taking over as late as I did,” Sall said. “We found a group of players that are also extremely good students and we mixed up the classes.” Sall is referring to the classroom status of athletes, which also included sophomores and juniors, in order to rebuild a team that would not consist solely of an underclassmen roster. Belt noted that with the team coming off several losing seasons, the coaching staff has a need to focus on the brand of basketball that NMU is going to offer.
“I am a believer there is a difference between losing and being a loser,” Belt said. “It is very rare a team goes undefeated, and there is a difference between losing and getting off the bus already mentally defeated. It is making sure we mentally believe we have an opportunity to win every game.”
The first game of the season opens on the road with a late time of 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12 against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB) at the Resch Center in Green Bay.

UWGB is a Division I school that will give the ’Cats a competitive opening game, but Hill said the team has a lot of opportunity to improve.
“We have a lot of good talent coming in and the sky’s the limit,” Hill said. “Every day there is only one way to go.”