Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Coaches: NU won’t repeat Coates mess

The Wildcats put one recruiting nightmare behind them last week, and current coaches believe a similar episode is unlikely to occur again.

Northwestern has resolved a lawsuit with the family of Andrew Coates, a former standout high-schooler from the Seattle area. The suit alleged that former NU coach Kevin O’Neill revoked a scholarship offer – which Coates had accepted in June 1998 – after watching the recruit play poorly at a summer tournament.

The university paid an undisclosed amount to settle the suit out of court.

“It just seems that maybe they offered a guy who they weren’t sure about,” said current assistant coach Paul Lee, who recently spent about a week on the recruiting trail. “You don’t want to see a guy once and then have to make a decision. We don’t go based on tape only. We want to go see a guy two or three times. I don’t think we would get in that situation.”

Both Lee and fellow assistant Craig Robinson couldn’t recall similar lawsuits, and both seemed puzzled as to how O’Neill – a high-caliber recruiter – could err so badly with a prospect.

They said one of the most important things in recruiting is for a coach to deal with his mistakes.

“Every now and then you pick wrong, and you get a guy where you’ve been bamboozled,” Robinson said. “But like anything, once they sign a letter of intent, you’ve got to work with them.”

Lee said coaches must research their prospects and know the process inside and out.

“Make sure you see the guy enough and do enough background checks where you know what kind of kid he is, and then you extend the offer,” he said. “Once he takes it, then you honor it. You’re done.”

PIGSKIN AND ROUNDBALL?: The basketball team’s bad, the football team’s good – so it’s only natural to think sophomore guard and former prep football star Ben Johnson might give the gridiron a try.

The Minneapolis native was one of the top-rated football recruits in the nation as a wide receiver in high school, but he spurned even Florida State to play basketball for the Wildcats.

NCAA basketball scholarship rules mandate that Johnson must wait until his junior season to consider playing both sports. But Johnson has apparently made up his mind, at least for next season.

“I think about it – I don’t know how much I’m actually going to consider it or talk to any coaches,” Johnson said. “Right now, I’m really focused on basketball. I don’t even think I’ll look forward to it until my senior season or after that.”

The guard said Randy Walker and NU wide receiver coach Howard Feggins have joked with him about coming out for the football team in the fall – with the Cats’ high-powered spread offense as added incentive.

Still, Johnson said this offseason was his best opportunity to improve his game and become an impact player for Bill Carmody and the basketball team.

“Last spring and summer, I worked pretty hard,” said Johnson, who is averaging 10.2 points per game this season. “But the spring and summer coming into your junior and senior year, that’s the time of year when you’ve really got to make your mark.”

HOT ON THE TRAIL: Lee and Robinson have made the bulk of recruiting trips for NU, and their travels have taken them across the country.

“We decided we were going to have to go after the best guys, wherever they are,” Robinson said. “Whether they’re out West in California, or East or down South, we’re just going to see the best players play. All high-major-type guys who have grades or are close to having grades we’re going to see. Geographically, there’s no limitation.”

Carmody said that some summer tournaments put almost 2,000 players on display, most of whom are stars at their high schools. His coaches are currently recruiting seniors and are laying groundwork with juniors and sophomores.

“I think most people know this isn’t a quick-fix here,” Carmody said of the Cats (9-17, 1-12 Big Ten), who are 1-27 in conference play over the last two years. “We’re playing around with a lot of different strategies.”The Cats have three scholarships available for next year. But Robinson said they might not use all three this spring.

“If our top three guys say yes, then we’re going to take our top three guys,” Robinson said. “If our top two guys say no, we’ll take our third guy, but do we take the fourth or fifth or do we wait (for another year)? Because the fourth and fifth may be just OK. So it’s really a decision tree based on what happens at the top.”

ON THE MEND: Junior point guard Collier Drayton sprained his left ankle during Friday’s practice. He’s expected to play Wednesday against Penn State, but Carmody isn’t sure how much.

Also recovering from an injury is sophomore swingman Winston Blake, who sprained his ankle in a loss against Indiana on Wednesday.

Freshman Drew Long – academically ineligible for the rest of this season – has a stomach sickness that has kept him out of practice.

As a result of the three injuries, Carmody has only eight healthy players at his disposal.

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Coaches: NU won’t repeat Coates mess