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CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa men’s basketball team is likely to be one of only a handful of Division I programs in the country that will return more than 90-percent of its roster next season.
With a record number of players in the transfer portal because of the NCAA’s new one-time waiver for immediate eligibility, programs are enduring roster turmoil like never before.
UNI, however, is the exception.
Seniors Trae Berhow, Tywhon Pickford and Goanar Mar announced late last month they would return and take advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic.
Berhow, who entertained options to start a professional career stateside or overseas, told The Gazette his decision came down to the ability to win with the team that’s set to return.
“Playing with AJ (Green), having the full squad back, being able to actually play the position I like — obviously I had to play a lot of positions last year with AJ being injured and a couple other things — (and) go back to more of the comfortable spots of what I used to do,” Berhow said. “More or less coming back and showing everybody what I can really do and just get back on the winning track.”
Pickford, who’s battled injury throughout his career, said last season was so unusual that he wanted one more opportunity to play a season that felt familiar to him with a healthy body.
“With a couple seasons I wasn’t able to play all games or play to my fullest potential because of injury setbacks,” Pickford said. “Now, (I’m) back fully healthy and I pray that continues so I can be able to get on the court for a full year and play my best game to move on and set me up for the next level.”
Green, who’s expected to be cleared for basketball activities in mid-August, will benefit from the intact roster that’s returning, too. Especially so when considering the additional playing time underclassmen like Bowen Born, Nate Heise and Noah Carter received as a result of his season-ending injury late last November.
“I think it’s a huge advantage for us,” Berhow said of the returning roster. “Last year I think was a great learning experience. We had freshmen that had to come in and play 30-plus minutes. They played me out of position, so obviously it was a great learning experience for me to play (point guard) and carry that over to next year.
“And obviously for AJ sitting out I feel like he got another perspective of the game. He also became a lot better leader, too, coaching from the bench.”
Pickford echoed Berhow’s remarks, and also pointed out how he, Berhow, Heise and Born taking turns playing point guard last season can make their offense more dynamic.
“As soon as we get a rebound we don’t have to look for someone to get the outlet to, we can just bring it up ourselves, so we can quickly get into our offense and put pressure on the defense,” Pickford said. “I think that will be really good for us next year.”