NORMAL — Blake Mishler celebrated his 23rd birthday earlier this month without much of a celebration.

“I had two projects (due) and actually did a lot of studying on my birthday,” he said.

What else would you expect from someone who calls himself “the grandfather” of Illinois State’s basketball team as its senior citizen?

The 6-foot-8 Mishler watched and competed against Dinma Odiakosa every day in practice for 2½ years after transferring from East Tennessee State. That has paid off for both Mishler and ISU this season.

Mishler has become a valuable reserve up front, averaging 5.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. The Redbirds (7-3), in the midst of a nine-day layoff for final exams, resume action with a road game at 6:05 p.m. Monday against North Carolina Wilmington (4-4).

“I’m not surprised by any of the good things he’s done and really believe he can play much better,” said ISU coach Tim Jankovich. “I’m proud of him.”

Jankovich said he wasn’t sure what to expect when Mishler, a Metamora native, decided to transfer to ISU in December 2007.

Mishler shared the same sentiments.

“I was coming in as redshirt walk-on,” he said. “Ask anyone and they always plan to play a bunch, but I realized Dinma was in front of me. He was a great player, and it was definitely going to be tough.”

Mishler has tried to duplicate Odiakosa’s tremendous work ethic of never taking a day off, coming in with a good attitude and practicing hard.

Odiakosa turned into an offensive force last season, as well as a defensive stalwart, and didn’t allow Mishler to get much playing time. Mishler did come through when needed in the first half in games against Drake and Southern Illinois.

Mishler knew he would be counted on more this season in the post as Jackie Carmichael’s primary substitute. He trimmed his weight, going from 250 pounds to 240, and has used the added quickness to his benefit at both ends.

Three times Mishler has scored in double figures, including a career-high 18 points in the opener against Southern Illinois Edwardsville. His left-handed jump hook seems to surprise many opponents. Mishler is shooting 55.3 percent from the field and 73.7 percent at the line.

“He’s really worked awfully hard in so many areas — his body, touch, shot, moves. He’s just so much a better player,” said Jankovich.

Before the season, Mishler was awarded with a scholarship.

“It’s definitely a financial burden off (me) and a symbol that putting in hard work pays off,” said Mishler, a political science/history major.

Mishler’s biggest contribution may not be felt until much later. His steady play allowed the Redbird coaches to redshirt 6-10 freshman Jordan Threloff.

“Jordan is really going to thank him one day,” said Jankovich. “Jordan is doing very well ... I don’t know if it’s helping us right now, but it’s helping Jordan and will help us in the long run.”

Mishler is confident the Redbirds will be just fine after an up-and-down start to the season. ISU is trying to blend in six newcomers. Even some of the veterans, including Mishler, don’t have that much game experience.

“A team that has been together a lot knows what to expect from each other,” said Mishler. “You get more comfortable going into a game knowing what you have to do. A lot of people are trying to learn what it takes to succeed on the college stage.”

Valley tourney tickets available: All-session tickets for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, which will be held March 3-6 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, are on sale at the ISU Athletics Ticket Office at Redbird Arena or at GoRedbirds.com for $110 apiece until Jan. 1.

The nine-game package will cost $125 after Jan. 1. Single-session tickets won’t be on sale until mid-January.

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