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Men’s Basketball: Nash draws rave reviews for defense

Matt Forman

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On the court, he lets his game speak for itself.

Jeremy Nash comes in off the bench, takes his position at the top of Northwestern’s 1-3-1 zone and goes to work. His job requirements include pressuring opponents at the top of the key and being an athletic presence that flusters offenses.

And while Nash averages 2.3 points and rebounds per contest, his statistical figures don’t begin to represent the impact he has on the game.

“He’s been disrupting the best offensive schemes in the country designed by the best coaches in the country,” said Tim Doyle, former NU guard and current analyst for the Big Ten Network. “His value is invaluable. He just needs to be on the floor.”

The junior from Chicago has averaged 29 minutes per contest over the last five games, compiling 18 rebounds and 11 assists to go along with 12 forced turnovers, many of which have led to easy baskets at the other end.

“He’s really flourishing in his role,” junior Kevin Coble said. “I couldn’t be happier being out there with him.”

Still, the silent assassin keeps to himself. The extent of the emotion he shows on the court includes an occasional chest bump or throwing down an emphatic dunk.

Off the court, it’s a complete 180.

Nash has the same laid-back approach, but he’s more talkative, joking with teammates.

“He’s a big-time jokester,” said senior Craig Moore, who shares a locker next to Nash. “He just likes to have fun, and he cracks a lot of jokes.”

Nash’s personable side is a reflection of his mother, who he said is outgoing and comical. Along with his father, Nash said his parents have been the most influential figures in his life, pushing him to be the best player he could be.

It’s paid off. After fighting through back and shoulder injuries that kept him out of eight games last season, Nash has worked to become the first player off of coach Bill Carmody’s bench.

“I called him dilettante his first two years here,” Carmody said. “I think the guy just decided that he might want to be really good. He’s really put his heart and soul into it.”

Since, the compliments have started to roll in.

Following NU’s 77-75 win over Indiana on Wednesday, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean commented on the job Nash has done running the top of the Cats’ impenetrable zone.

“They play their zone so much like a man-to-man,” Crean said, comparing it to John Chaney’s zones at Temple. “Those were of the best zones I’ve ever seen. So much of that is caused by Nash at the top.”

Nash, at 6-foot-4, uses his length and athleticism to disrupt opposing offenses. In high school, he used the same qualities as a star wide receiver for Marist High School. A self-prescribed Randy Moss-like receiver, Nash used his vertical leap, hands and explosiveness to play the position. Now, he jumps to swat passes out of the air, he uses his hands to register steals and he uses explosiveness to pressure on the ball.

“I could never have foreseen him having such an impact on the game,” Doyle said. “He’s been a huge asset and the glue that makes things stick.”

While Nash has excelled on the defensive end, he said there is still room to improve his intensity on offense. He added that he could communicate more with his teammates during games.

Still, he has the confidence level of the dominating defensive force he has become.

“Michael Jordan and LeBron (James) want to guard every team’s best player,” he said. “I want that duty. Somebody has to stop him, I’d love to.”

When Nash and NU meet Wisconsin in Evanston on Saturday, that means containing guard Jason Bohannon who scored 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the teams’ last matchup, a 74-45 loss for NU in Madison.

m-forman@northwestern.edu

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