ESPNChicago.com had a chance to discuss the season ahead for Northern Illinois with coach Ricardo Patton.
Q: Was this one of the more interesting offseasons you’ve ever had with so many players leaving?
A: It was one of the more interesting offseasons. There are times that when you’re in coaching, if you were to do an honest survey, that it wasn’t unusual what happened to our program. This is something that happens all over the country. Players transferring, players being disgruntle, parents getting involved, it’s not unique to our program.
Q: From the outside looking in, it appeared as if the program was in turmoil. How do you explain what happened with the four guys with starting experience deciding to leave the team?
A: At this juncture, I don’t see a need to revisit last season. I’m excited about the season and the players we have. Last season has been talked, written about and thought about more than it probably should have. I’m certainly not going to revisit that at this point.
Q: Xavier Silas was one of the best players in the MAC last season. Where would you like to see him improve this year?
A: Defensively and rebounding the basketball, particularly on the offensive end. He’s going to be able to score more baskets by going to the offensive glass harder, more consistently. Defense is probably what we spent the most time talking about since last season. I think the NBA is certainly been a goal of his. He’s worked extremely hard to be in a position to get some looks. He had a great summer. He is one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever coached, and I’ve coached guys who have gone on to play in the NBA. I haven’t coached anyone who has worked harder than Xavier Silas. He gets it. Some guys talk about putting in the work to be successful, but he puts in the work to match that goal.
Q: What do you feel this team will be known for?
A: I think that we have to emphasize defense every day, which we always have. Last season when we won six games in a row, we were one or two in every defensive category in our conference. When we went on a 10-game losing streak, we were 11th or 12th in those defensive categories. I think our players understand when we defend well, we were able to win, and when we didn’t, we didn’t produce W’s. I think what we can hang our hat to is our defensive ways.
Q: You play five in-state opponents this season. What’s your philosophy in scheduling so many Illinois teams?
A: One of things is there’s so many quality universities here in the state of Illinois. It only makes sense we play each other. It makes sense from a budgetary standpoint to play each other. What we try to do is come in and play a very competitive non-conference schedule. You look at the teams we’re playing. My hat goes off to [Northwestern] coach [Bill] Carmody bringing his team to the Convocation Center. You don’t see many teams that do that. This is the probably the best team he’s had in some time, but still. We start off with Northwestern the first weekend. We go to Bradley. We go to DePaul. DePaul is another program that will come to the Convocation Center next year. I think those type of games our fans will appreciate. Illinois-Chicago is a series we started last year. Southern Illinois is the rekindling of a series. We’re also going to Missouri, going to Iowa State. I think it’s as competitive of a schedule that anyone’s playing in our league.