- Scott Powers, Reporter
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Xavier Silas was the most excited to finally become eligible for Northern Illinois after sitting out last season, but sophomore point guard Mike DiNunno wasn't far behind.
DiNunno knew exactly what Silas, a junior shooting guard who transferred from Colorado, could mean for him and the Huskies. For one, Silas would quickly add to DiNunno's assist total, and, more importantly, he would give Northern Illinois an instant advantage in the Mid-American Conference.
Both have been true.
"We don't have a lot of guys in our conference who are 6-5, can shoot it and defend like that," DiNunno said. "Obviously, X is someone who creates a lot of mismatches in our conference."
MAC coaches quickly are discovering what DiNunno has known ever since Silas began practicing. Through nine conference games, Silas has averaged 21.1 points -- second in the MAC -- and has been the reason why Northern Illinois has remained in striking distance of the conference leaders.
Silas did arrive at Northern Illinois with high expectations for a number of reasons. His size at guard is an anomaly in the MAC. He averaged in double digits over two seasons in the Big 12. He is also the son of former NBA player James Silas, who was nicknamed "Captain Late" for his late-game heroics.
Northern Illinois coach Ricardo Patton never doubted Silas would be able to live up to the hype. Patton has been following Silas' career for some time. As the head coach at Colorado, Patton originally recruited and landed Silas out of Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H.
After Patton became Northern Illinois' coach, and Silas was dismissed for an undisclosed reason from Colorado after two seasons, Patton went after him again.
Having known Silas, Patton wasn't worried about his departure from Colorado. It hadn't stemmed from academic or criminal troubles. It apparently had more to do with differences between Silas and current Colorado coach Jeff Bzdelik.
"I read what was out there," Patton said. "I got to know the kid, and I got to the know the family the year he played at Colorado as a freshman. I wasn't concerned with whatever issues may have occurred out there. I knew we wouldn't have an issue here. I think he's a quality young man, and I think he has quality parents."
Silas doesn't like discussing his Colorado days. He did admit that he never expected to be kicked off the team.
"That's a story in itself," he said. "It was a shock to everybody. It was a definite shock. That's pretty much all I want to talk about Colorado and the dismissal. I'm trying to look forward and be optimistic."
It was the approach Silas took to begin the season, but his optimism was quickly knocked out of him. After averaging 29 points over two exhibition games, Silas' luck failed him as he fractured his right hand during his regular-season debut on Nov. 13.
"The first question was, 'How long?'" Silas said. "[The doctor] said it was going to be about a month. I couldn't really believe it. It was like a story, you know what I mean."
Silas returned to action against Minnesota on Dec. 15. In his first two games back, he struggled. He shot a combined 8-for-33 against Minnesota and Illinois-Chicago.
From there, he picked it up. He had 19 points against Maryland-Eastern Shore. He followed with 26 points against Temple, which started a started a string of four consecutive games with 24 or more points. In conference, he had 26 points against Central Michigan on Jan. 23, and the next game he put up 31 against Ohio and then 27 against Buffalo.
Northern Illinois has endured an up-and-down season. It began 2-8 with Silas out of the lineup in most of the games. Shortly after he returned, the Huskies went on a six-game winning streak, returned to .500 and opened up the MAC with a 4-0 record. Since then, they've struggled again and lost their last five games.
Despite the season's rollercoaster, DiNunno has seen an improvement in this year's team over last year's 10-20 squad, and he believed Silas has played a role.
"Last year, we didn't know where the points were going to come from, where the energy was going to come from every night," DiNunno said. "We didn't know who was going to show up every night. This year, everyone knows their roles. We have evolved into a more complete team.
"[Silas'] our scorer. We need him to score. We need to him come up in big situations. We need him to rebound and defend at the wing."
Silas provides more than just scoring. He shoots nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line and averages about two assists, five rebounds and a steal per game.
"There are guys can who score as good as him in this league," Patton said. "There are guys who can shoot the ball better. I think it's the total package that helps him at this level."
Silas does feel some pressure with his role, but just as his father once made a career of coming through in the clutch, Silas also enjoys having the spotlight shining on him.
"It's not an easy thing to have the role I have," Silas said. "At the end of the day, there's a lot of pressure that comes with it. I like that pressure. Anybody who is a competitive person likes pressure. That's part of the game. It wouldn't be fun if there wasn't pressure. Otherwise, it would be pick-up."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.