Northern Arizona healthy, hopeful for 2017-18
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Northern Arizona’s rise has been halted painfully.
Two seasons ago, the Lumberjacks were poised to make some noise with several returning players from a team that reached the 2015 CollegeInsiders.com title game.
That season was derailed by injuries to key players. Northern Arizona was ready to take a step back in the right direction, only to get hit with more injuries.
Now the Lumberjacks are hoping the pain will go away.
“I sure hope there aren’t any more injuries,” Lumberjacks coach Jack Murphy said. “It’s been a rough couple of years on that front.”
The injuries have taken a huge toll. Northern Arizona went 5-25 in 2015-16 and 9-23 a year ago after guard Torry Johnson tore his ACL in offseason workouts and Jaleni Nealy re-tore his ACL before his first game.
The only upside from those injuries is that the younger players who had to take their places experience they might not have otherwise gotten.
That gives Murphy a more experienced group this season, bolstered by the addition of three transfers who should have an immediate impact.
“The injuries have been tough, but it’s allowed guys to get more experience,” said Johnson, who is healthy after recovering from his ACL tear. “With the guys they brought in, I like the way this team is shaping up.”
Here are a few more things to look for from Northern Arizona this season:
JOHNSON RETURNS: Johnson’s return from injury is a huge boost for NAU. He averaged 9.3 points as a starter in 2016-16 and was projected to be the Lumberjacks’ starting shooting guard before his injury last season. Athletic and a decent perimeter shooter, Johnson could challenge to be NAU’s leading scorer this season.
MORE RETURNEES: NAU has four returning players in addition to Johnson: sophomore forward Brooks DeBisschop, sophomore guards Chris Bowling and JoJo Anderson, and junior forward Isaiah Thomas. Of that group, Anderson was the leading scorer at 7.4 points per game.
ALLEN’S ROLE: Of the three transfers Murphy signed, former Stanford guard Malcolm Allen could have the biggest impact. He did not play a huge role with Stanford, but practiced and played against Pac-12 players for the Cardinal before graduating and transferring to Northern Arizona. He knows what it takes to play at a high level and will be a good role model for NAU’s younger players, who have already been peppering him with questions.
THE OTHER TRANSFERS: Joining Allen among NAU’s transfers are guards Gino Littles and Karl Harris. Littles, a 6-foot-1 senior, became a starter as a freshman walk-on at UTSA and had his sophomore season cut short by a knee injury. He averaged 6.7 points and 3.4 rebounds last season and requested a waiver from the NCAA to become immediately eligible due to his father’s health issues. Harris played at La Salle before transferring to Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College last season. He appeared in 25 games as a freshman at La Salle and averaged 4.0 points in 31 games with Indian Hills last season.