Ground zero: No signees for NU

Glenn Kasses

Northwestern men’s basketball coach Bill Carmody will have to wait a while longer to land his first recruit at NU.

Tuesday was the final day in the late signing period for men’s basketball teams across the country. And NU, which hadn’t signed any players in the early period last November — largely because Carmody had only been in Evanston for two months — allowed the deadline to pass without signing anyone.

As a result, the Wildcats haven’t signed a player to a letter of intent since last spring, when former coach Kevin O’Neill inked four players, two of whom have since left the team.

An NU official said that both Carmody and his players would be unavailable to comment on the nonexistent recruiting class of 2000-01.

NU coaches had said during the season that the coaching transition period that didn’t end until early to mid-September hurt their recruiting efforts. In addition, they said they were focusing on freshmen, sophomores and juniors in their recruiting visits — not on seniors who were available during the spring signing period.

The coaching staff said it hadn’t found many players it was overly enamored with. Therefore, there was no indication that the staff was set on giving out the three open scholarships it has — now four, assuming guard Ben Johnson follows through on his decision to transfer.

“If our top three guys say yes, then we’ll take our top three guys,” assistant coach Craig Robinson said during the season. “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 or fifth may be just OK. So it’s really a decision tree based on what happens at the top.”

Not signing any players could be damaging to a team that has won just three Big Ten games in the last two seasons. First, the Cats return only 10 players from last year’s squad, with Casey Cortez, Harry Good and Ben Johnson having left since the beginning of last season. Unless NU lands a transferring player, which would have to occur by June 1, it will begin next year with just enough players to scrimmage with two full squads.

“I think most people know this isn’t a quick fix here,” Carmody said in a February interview. “We’re playing around with a lot of different strategies.” The Cats finished 11-19 last season, a marked improvement from their 5-25 campaign the year before.

Also, the same recruiting rules that have had coach Lute Olson at Arizona up in arms recently could prevent NU from having a full roster of scholarship players until 2005.

According to NU’s rules compliance office, NCAA regulations state that teams cannot sign more than five players in one year and cannot bring in more than eight players in any two-year stretch.

Ultimately, unless the Cats’ roster changes from its current state — be it by premature addition or subtraction via transfer — they will be forced to hold scholarships that theoretically could use on incoming freshmen.

• In 2002, NU will have six scholarships available, but will only be able to give out five, the one-year maximum.

• In 2003, the Cats can offer just three scholarships, although they will carry over one from 2002 and have four new ones available.

• In 2004, NU will be in the same situation as in 2002, with six scholarships (two carrying over and four new ones) to give, while only being able to offer five.

Finally, in 2005, the Cats will have no players graduating because they didn’t sign anyone this year. As a result, they’ll have just one scholarship, a carry-over from 2004.

Carmody won’t be able to sign his first high school recruit until the early signing period begins in November. Still, those players wouldn’t be on the court next year, but instead for the 2002-03 season, which would be Carmody’s third in Evanston.