Out of the Portal: NMU Wildcats welcome coveted transfer players


MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Next college basketball season will be unlike any we’ve ever seen thanks to new rulings made by the NCAA. One big change grants players an extra year of eligibility to make up for a shortened 2020 season.

“The NCAA for one year is letting everyone go over their scholarship limit. You can basically get extra scholarships for one year,” said Matt Majkrzak, head coach for the NMU Men’s Basketball team. “I think we’ll be more talented but I also think the whole conference and the whole country is going to be more talented. So, it’s going to be an exciting and different year.”

The transfer portal will see more traffic than any other year thanks to a new ruling that grants immediate eligibility to any player upon transferring.

“You can transfer up, you can transfer down and you’re eligible right away,” said Majkrzak. “The transfer portals became famous because everyone is entering this mythical portal on the internet and then rather than having to get a release and all the ways that you used to transfer, you now just say, hey I want my name in and you’re able to come and go as you please.”

Northern will welcome three proven transfers, all with impressive resumes, to go along with an exceptional high school class.

“One is a D1 guy, another is a D2 guy, and one is an NAIA guy,” said Majkrzak. “So, we have three different levels. But they were all very successful at the four-year level before getting here.”

Justin Brookens comes to Marquette from Southern Illinois. Last year, he started seven games, averaging 6.9 points per game and had his best game last December against Eastern Illinois.

“He had I think 36 or 38 (points) in a game this year at the D1 level which doesn’t happen very often,” said Majkrzak. “I think he wants to be a lead guy.”

Nick Wagner is a graduate transfer from Bemidji State. Last season for the Beavers, he averaged 13.8 ppg while shooting 42.8% from the field, including 35.6% from the 3 point line.

“He graduated so he has that one bonus year left to play,” said Majkrzak. “I actually coached him in 5th grade AAU. He played up with his brother who was on my team. So, I’ve known him forever. His dad actually called me and said, ‘Hey, Nick was transferring and he’s in the portal. Would you be interested?’ I said of course I would be interested.”

John Kerr wrapped up a stellar career at St. Ambrose scoring 1,706 points with 951 rebounds. He was a four-time all-conference selection and in 2017-18 was named the CCAC Freshman of the Year. He selected Northern over dozens of other offers thanks to a unique program only offered at NMU.

“Pretty much every division two was fishing or chasing him in some way, shape, or form,” said Majkrzak. “We were the only school that offered an exercise science master’s program. So, as much as I would love to say it was my great personality, I think a big part of it was he wanted to pursue his masters in something he wanted to do.”

The transfer portal has been good to the Wildcats. NMU brought in Max Bjorklund last season and his transition to the GLIAC was seamless. Bjorklund averaged 14.8 ppg, 3.8 rbg, and 2.2 apg while shooting 46% from the field and 38% from deep.

“I thought he was our best player last year,” said Majkrzak. “In a way, it felt, not that we didn’t coach him some, but on the first day that he walked in the gym he was already a finished product.”

Not only did Bjorklund bring it on the court, his knowledge helped guide the younger players on the roster.

“He understood college basketball,” said Majkrzak. “He played at the D2 level before. He brought a lot of things that he had learned playing college basketball that maybe wasn’t stuff that was taught. But now I’m like ‘Well that worked pretty well..we should teach all our guys to do that.”

Majkrzak hopes the new portal players can have a similar impact this season.

“I think especially with the diverse background of the guys coming in and I’m hoping those guys can help us be better coaches and help our players be better players on top of being really good players themselves.”

The mix of returners, coveted freshmen, and a diverse class of transfer players should help the Wildcats take the next step and closer to their ultimate goal, an NCAA tournament appearance.

“We want to make the NCAA tournament,” said Majkrzak. “It’s been like 22 years or something like that. It has been way too long. Especially with all the facility upgrades not just athletics but on campus we think this is one of the best places to go to school in the entire midwest and we’ve been able to recruit to that now. I think it’s time to turn all the potential into performance and I think we have the group that can do it.”

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