NU to honor seniors in final home appearance

Brian Sumers

Northwestern Athletic Director Mark Murphy, a former Pro Bowl NFL football player with the Washington Redskins, paid Jitim Young a compliment.

“He’s a pretty good athlete,” Murphy said. “He’d make a heck of a football player.”

Young, the Wildcats’ gritty captain, will play the final regular season home game of his career Saturday afternoon when Michigan (16-10, 7-8 Big Ten) visits Welsh-Ryan Arena for a 1:30 p.m. game.

The senior has started 114 consecutive games in his four-year college career, the most starts ever by an NU men’s basketball player.

Of current players, he’s the top career scorer in the Big Ten with 1,463 career points. And earlier this season, Young surpassed Shon Morris to become NU’s sixth-leading scorer.

On Saturday, the Cats will honor their most prolific player since 1999 All-America center Evan Eschmeyer with a ceremony 15 minutes before tip-off.

Young, who will be recognized Saturday along with fellow seniors Patrick Towne and Drew Long, will receive a framed Northwestern jersey. Long left the team two years ago because of an injury.

“Am I going to cry? I don’t know,” Young said. “We’ll have to see.”

For the first time in Young’s career, the season’s final game means something for the Cats. With a win NU (13-13, 8-7) will clinch fourth place in the Big Ten for the first time since the 1967-68 season.

A fourth-place finish would give NU a first-round bye in the conference tournament, which starts Thursday in Indianapolis.

A victory Saturday also would assure the Cats eligibility for the National Invitational Tournament by virtue of a guaranteed record of at least .500.

That wouldn’t be such a bad finish for a program that his turned in just six winning seasons in the last 45 years. Eschmeyer, a member of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, played on one of those squads in 1998-99.

That squad finished 15-14, but went just 6-10 in Big Ten play. This year’s squad could win its ninth conference game of the season on Saturday, which would give the Cats their most league victories since the 1932-33 campaign.

Although he’s been away from Evanston for more than five years, Eschmeyer said he’s followed this years squad. An NIT bid, Eschmeyer said, would help NU continue building its program.

“I bleed purple and I’m proud of it,” he said.

Just as Eschmeyer carried his last squad into the postseason, Young, a candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, leads this year’s team.

“I think he’s been a warrior,” Eschmeyer said of Young. “I think he plays with his head and his heart. I’d be proud to put five players like Jitim Young on the floor. They don’t come around too often.”