New coach’s choice words the right ones

Ross Siler is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected].

Not even 30 seconds into the Northwestern men’s basketball team’s practice Wednesday and new coach Bill Carmody was letting the four-letter words fly.

The Wildcats were working on a ball-handling drill and junior guard Collier Drayton delivered the perfect cross-over on Carmody, who was serving as a defender.

“Good,” Carmody said as Drayton proceeded down court for a layup.

“Good,” Carmody repeated when freshman guard Jitim Young displayed his cross-over.

“Good,” Carmody told freshman forward Harry Good, whose name, of course, said it all.

Wednesday’s practice came exactly two months after former coach Kevin O’Neill took his infamous mouth to New York for an assistant’s job with the Knicks. During O’Neill’s stint at NU, a profanity a minute was not an unreasonable pace for one of his practices.

Taking his place is Carmody, whose shout of “hustle up, fellas” was about as mean as things got. And beyond the fabled Princeton offense Carmody has brought from his old job, perhaps the biggest change surrounding this year’s Cats team refers to its coach’s tone.

“If K.O. was rated R, then coach Carmody is probably PG-13,” said sophomore forward Winston Blake, one of O’Neill’s favorite targets for verbal abuse. “He’ll get on you, but he doesn’t have all the language K.O. had.”

Which is indeed a good thing for a team with no seniors, two juniors and six freshmen on its roster. Instead of living in fear of O’Neill yelling “Hold it!” in practice and preparing for whatever tirade would follow, the players can focus on learning Carmody’s system.

Last season, O’Neill admittedly tried to calm his hostile coaching manner. Still, six players quit the team either during or after the season. That was partly due to the struggles of the Cats’ 5-25 season, but partly because O’Neill’s style didn’t help make the campaign any easier on his players.

“K.O.’s thing was to get on you and put a fire under your butt and make you work hard,” Blake said. “And whatever means he was going to use to do it, he was going to do it. Sometimes he went overboard.”

As last season showed, it’s difficult to succeed in practice when your coach is combining swear words in ways never heard. And it’s hard to succeed in games when your coach is cursing out the ref less than a minute in, as happened during last year’s loss at Illinois.

If O’Neill had stayed, NU could be penned in for another winless season in the Big Ten, probably with more transfers at the end. With Carmody on the job, NU at least has a chance to surprise and learn the complexities of the Princeton offense in peace. The coach is mild-mannered almost to a fault. Plus, he’ll save newspapers the trouble of editing quotes so they can be fit to print.

“The players might not think it, but I think I’ve been pretty patient,” Carmody said. “Even if I don’t show it, I know in my head that’s what I have to do. I’m trying to accelerate their learning, but it takes time with a whole new offense, new coaches, new regime.”

Ultimately, Carmody’s style can’t make all the Cats’ problems go away. An hour and a half into practice, a bad pass prompted a choice PG-13 word from Carmody. Just one, though — enough to remind everyone that college hoops is not Disney.

It was a brief flashback to O’Neill. But as one courtside observer said earlier: “The show’s over.”

• • •

The Knicks’ season-opener Tuesday marked Kevin O’Neill’s first game as their fifth assistant. It ended with the Knicks being hammered 101-72 by the 76ers and suffering the indignity of having their fans boo early in the second quarter.

The Associated Press called the game as a “complete debacle” and described the Knicks as having played “a slow, sloppy brand of basketball.” To anyone in Evanston who watched, it was a familiar sight.