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The North Wind

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas Wiertella April 30, 2024

State of the program: NMU Men’s Basketball

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ROUNDING THE CORNER: After a whirlwind season that saw its highs and lows, the NMU Men’s Basketball team looks to be more consistent and competitive for a conference title this season. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics.

The rookie season for NMU Men’s Basketball head coach Matt Majkrzak was as up and down as it gets. After being projected to finish last and winning a couple of huge road games, the Wildcats slid into the GLIAC Tournament as the eighth and final seed and upset first-seeded Ferris State in the quarterfinals.

Now in year two, the drama is still as high as ever with the effects of COVID-19, and the 2020-21 basketball season being pushed back to January 1 at the earliest. However, even with the many negatives that the shut down brought to every sport in the spring months, Majkrzak and his staff tried to make the most of it.

“I think it was positive in a way, it wasn’t a bad time to have some down time and to reflect a little bit,” Majkrzak said. “It was my first year at Northern, and second year as a head coach, both jobs I had, I started late in the process, so there was a lot of ‘go, go, go’ and not a lot of ‘sit back and reflect’. I think that was a positive for us as a staff.”

Now back to basketball, the ‘Cats are trying to improve off of last year’s inconsistent season. With so many uncertainties for what the season may hold, Majkrzak’s program is trying to break through into contention.

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“I think basketball-wise, we feel really good about where we’re at, and I think that we’ve made some big strides over the last 12 months,” Majkrzak said. “We’re in a spot where we think we can compete in the top half of the league pretty consistently, and that part’s all great, but obviously the tough part is balancing that with the uncertainty of COVID-19, and just kind of what our season may or may not look like.”

The goal right now for the basketball season will be a 22-game regular season schedule with a conference and national tournament, Majkrzak said, like normal times. But nothing’s normal, and confusion runs through all of collegiate athletics.

“We don’t know [what the season will look like], we’re still waiting on kind of what the schedule will look like. We’ve heard some good news and some very positive things coming out from the NCAA about the possibility of playing a season, but we don’t know exactly what that structure would look like,” Majkrzak said. “I think the key is trying to do it in a way where it’s still a great experience for all our athletes so they get as close to a full season out of it as possible.”

The good news is that the Wildcats are scheduled to begin practicing on Monday, Aug. 31 in small groups, and the team has been sent through hurdle-after-hurdle to get there. 

“There’s been a lot of NCAA rules that we’ve had to follow and planning and procedures that we’ve had to come up with as an athletic department and a basketball program,” Majkrzak said. “We’re at a place now where we’ve done all that, and we’re kind of excited to get going.”

If a season does indeed happen, NMU is hoping to show off their seven-player recruiting class, including four transfers and three incoming freshmen. Two of the transfer guards come with Division II experience: Max Bjorklund and Letrell West. Bjorklund starred at Bemidji State University, averaging 16 points-per-game in conference play a year ago. West played at Clafin University, led the team in points-per-game, and was in the top two in almost every category, Majkrzak said.

“We thought we needed an influx of scoring coming out of last season, we think they all bring something to the table,” Majkrzak said.

The two additional transfer guards from the community college level in Connor Kasperbauer from Kirkwood Community College and Tre Harvey from Schoolcraft Community College. The three high school kids included guard Sam Schultz from Oswego East High School in Illinois, and was the top recruit in the state that didn’t go to a Division I school, Majkrzak said. Guard Carson Smith from Menomonee Falls High School in Wisconsin and forward Connor McCance from Oswego High School in Illinois round out the class.

“We’re really high on it, we brought four transfers to maybe jumpstart getting to the top of the league sooner rather than later, and then filled it with three high school kids that we really, really like,” Majkrzak said. “I haven’t got the chance to see them as much as I wanted to, really I haven’t seen them at Northern yet, but seeing what they’ve done in the past, we think this has the chance to become a really special group.”

The goal for the ‘Cats for this season is right out in front of them: to host a first round GLIAC Tournament game and have a chance at making the NCAA Tournament. With returning players such as senior guard Alec Fruin, junior forward Troy Summers, redshirt-sophomore forward Dolapo Olayinka and redshirt-freshman Ben Wolf leading the charge, the Wildcats have an opportunity to do just that.

“I think we just have to keep making strides, we improved a lot as the season wore on last year. I think we just kinda have to improve the whole team and the whole roster,” Majkrzak said. “I do think last year it was nice to make a little run at the end of the year, we’re hoping this year to be in the mix to host a home playoff game. I think that if you can get a home playoff game in the first round, you’re going to give yourself a chance to make an NCAA Tournament, and that’s the ultimate goal for us.”

With goals set for this upcoming season, and big goals at that, all the Wildcats can do until then is wait and see if they actually have one.

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