Men’s Basketball: Heralding the Cats’ unheralded

Matt Forman

When Kevin Coble came to Northwestern as a highly touted freshman recruit from Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2006, he didn’t know what to expect at his first practice.

What he remembers from that practice three years later is the team gathering in a circle to stretch for the first time. As a trainer instructed the team to do a backstretch, Coble couldn’t help but laugh.

“All of the sudden I just heard this little whistle snake sound,” Coble said. “He’d have this look on his face, and everyone couldn’t help but cracking up. It definitely kept things from getting stagnant and monotonous.”

Coble was referring to senior forward Patrick Houlihan and the team’s ‘snake stretch.’

Since joining coach Bill Carmody’s squad four years ago, Houlihan has lightened the mood every day at practice.

“He’s the life of the party kind of guy, I don’t want to know what he’s like away from the court,” Carmody said.

Houlihan has been at the center of attention without the prospect of contributing during games. In eight appearances this season, he has played a total of 11 minutes. Still, Houlihan has been a coach’s dream player.

“He’s a hard worker, he understands everything, he doesn’t have a big ego and he’ll do anything you ask,” Carmody said. “Plus, he’s actually gotten better.”

Houlihan walked on to the Wildcats’ roster at the advice of former NU guard Tim Doyle. Growing up in suburban New York City, Houlihan and Doyle played against each other in high school and worked out together in the offseason.

While Houlihan doesn’t have individual recollections of starring on the court, he will leave NU with four years of collective memories. As starting lineups are being announced before each game, Houlihan high-fives sophomore guard Michael Thompson, chest bumps freshman Kyle Rowley and pushes around freshman John Shurna.

“I’m definitely going to miss that,” Houlihan said. “The pre-game rituals with them running through the tunnel or joking around before games.”

Houlihan is only one of the Cats’ two walk-ons. Senior forward Marlon Day is the other.

While both stand at 6-foot-5, the similarities end there. Day walked on as a junior after transferring from Purdue. He hails from Mandeville, Jamaica, and played one year of high school basketball at Whitney Young in Chicago.

“As I told Marlon after senior night, I want to be nice to him, because (he) is going to do really well,” Carmody said. “He’s smart, he’s ambitious, a hard worker and he might be able to get me a job someday.”

Day is the ultimate athlete. He was his high school’s MVP and offensive player of the year in Jamaica while competing in soccer and track. At Purdue, he walked on to the football team.

If it weren’t for knee tendonitis that has inhibited his athleticism, Day might have seen more playing time over the last two seasons.

“He’s really explosive and he’s strong,” Coble said. “I think he would be in our rotation if his knees were better.”

Coble and senior guard Craig Moore added that, if healthy, Day would win the team’s hypothetical dunk contest. Coble also gets to see the best Day has to offer when they face each other every day in practice. Day executes the scout team offense and defense, which most recently meant simulating the inside presence of Ohio State forward Evan Turner.

Imitating the opponents’ style of play won’t be what Day remembers of his career. His greatest memories of NU come equally from the practice court and the bench.

“I pride myself in the couple of practices I’ve had where I’ve proven that I can compete at this level more than anything else,” Day said. “But certainly every win, it feels good to know that I’m on the team that’s the bridge for Northwestern becoming an elite program.”

The Cats will continue to push for their first NCAA tournament appearance Sunday against the Buckeyes in Columbus.

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