Despite Abdel Nader transferring, there's no reason for NIU to panic

USA TODAY Sports

NIU is losing its leading scorer of the past two seasons, but coach Mark Montgomery can still build a winner in DeKalb.

I think we've all heard whispers and conjecture on why Abdel Nader left Northern Illinois. I don't feel like getting into them; what we know is that he's not there anymore, and for much of the season he wasn't there anyway. Nader may have been their leading scorer, but he played in just 20 of their 30 games, missing the first seven games due to a team suspension and the last four for personal reasons.

It could be an apple and orange comparison, but I recall in the 2010-2011 season when Toledo's leading scorer was freshman Jake Barnett, and Rockets fans placed much of their optimism in his ability. Then he transferred to Saint Louis. For whatever reason, Barnett and then-Toledo coach Gene Cross just didn't see eye to eye. And I hate making a comparison between Cross and Mark Montgomery. Perhaps a more pleasing one is the disagreement between Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins and his superior center Matt Stainbrook, who transferred to Xavier after a season which included a one-game suspension. Stainbrook may not have been their leader, but it could have been argued he was their best player. Or to bring it back to another Toledo comparison: Tod Kowalczyk and Malcolm Griffin.

Between him and the departure of Akeem Springs, that leaves NIU's leading scorer as Aksel Bolin, who put in 7.4 points per game. But in the 10 Division I games where Nader didn't play, Bolin led the team with 9.4 points per game. In the final four games without Nader and Springs, the average went up to 10.8 points.

He and Antone Christian will be the lone seniors on this team for 2013-14. You probably wouldn't include Bolin among even the top 10 incoming MAC seniors — maybe the tenth — but the point is he'll be their first senior leader in quite a while. The last one who played meaningful minutes for the Huskies was Tim Toler in 2012, and he didn't last through the year. Bolin and Christian will also signify the last of the Ricardo Patton players and how they lead this team as seniors will play a major role in their degree of competitiveness beyond that. And then Montgomery can focus on recruiting and developing his own All-MAC players.

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