Men’s Basketball: Dererk Pardon prepared for new role as leader


Daily file photo by Jacob Swan

Dererk Pardon reaches out to grab a rebound. The sophomore center now has a key role as Northwestern’s starter in the middle.

Garrett Jochnau, Sports Web Producer

Men’s Basketball

When Dererk Pardon takes the court this season, he’ll hardly resemble the undersized project who backed up Alex Olah last year.

Sure, the athletic big man still lacks in the height department, and as a sophomore Pardon will still have to focus on his growth as a player. But this year’s roster claims neither Olah nor Joey van Zegeren, both gone after anchoring last season’s squad inside.

This time around, the responsibility of manning the middle falls primarily on Pardon’s shoulders. And though he’ll have some help from freshman Barret Benson, Pardon is primed to be one of Northwestern’s most important and indispensable players.

“It’s his time,” coach Chris Collins said. “I’m excited for Dererk. He’s really a determined kid. He’s a hard working kid. He’s really focused.”

The upcoming campaign won’t be the only time the sophomore has been thrown into the fire. After Collins initially planned to redshirt Pardon through the 2015-16 season, the coach was forced to turn to the freshman when injuries decimated the Wildcats’ interior as the team entered conference play.

Pardon responded immediately, delivering a 28-point, 12-rebound showstopper in just his second collegiate game. But while he continued to be an important piece for the Cats, the then-freshman never again replicated those standout numbers.

Collins has now tabbed Pardon as one of the team’s former wildcards who no longer has the luxury of showing up irregularly. Now as the top dog inside, the big man is going to have to be a consistent presence on both sides of the floor for NU to compete at a high level.

But being the relative veteran inside means Pardon’s maturation needs to be seen from a leadership perspective too.

As important as the sophomore will be to the team’s success, his less experienced partner in the post, Benson, is also going accept heavy responsibility. Both Collins and Pardon recognized preparing Benson to compete at a high level falls on Pardon as the mentor.

“I have to step up,” Pardon said. “Barret is a pretty good player. I just have to take him under my wing, a lot like how Olah and Joey helped me out last year, and I think we can really double team that five spot.”

The two have enjoyed their practice showdowns, each using the opportunity to elevate his own game. Against the 6-foot-10 Benson, Pardon, who is generously listed at 6-foot-8, has a sizable competitor with whom he can bang in practice. On the other hand, Benson has gotten to learn from a more-mobile partner with a season of conference play under his belt.

Off the court, Pardon has shown Benson the work ethic that is expected at the collegiate level.

“It’s everything from scheduling when I need to get stuff in between classes, getting used to that as far as drills and getting together to do some post work,” Benson said.

Pardon also knows that in-game leadership will not only be crucial but also expected.

Comfort from his year of experience should help Pardon naturally take the next step, but the second-year player is also going to look to be more vocal.

“Just being the anchor of the defense and the anchor of the team in the middle, I have to be a lot more vocal offensively and defensively,” Pardon said.

The lack of depth behind him and the increased responsibility means he’ll also have to be more diligent in avoiding foul trouble. He also has plenty to learn offensively before he can be expected to produce as a scorer like Olah.

But his ability to run the floor and his instincts on defense and the boards will give NU the opportunity to play a new, fast-paced brand of basketball.

“I think he can cause a lot of problems for other teams’ big guys,” Collins said. “I think he can bring some things to the table that we didn’t have at that position the last couple years with his athleticism and mobility.”

The post definitely has a new face, but the sophomore is prepared for the challenge.

And while both Pardon and Benson will be forced to “sink or swim,” as Collins put it, the tandem is excited for the opportunity.

“It’s our youngest position, no question, so it’s gonna be a key for us this year,” Collins said. “Can we get solid play out of a sophomore and a freshman at that spot? I think we can.”

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Twitter: @GarrettJochnau