Men’s Basketball: Nash sees role, NU’s success grow

Danny Daly

Four years ago, the Wildcats welcomed a group of freshmen that has helped elevate the program from the Big Ten basement to the NCAA Tournament bubble. Wednesday night’s Senior Day festivities against Chicago State were supposed to celebrate the achievements of that five-player class-instead, guard Jeremy Nash will be the only one taking the court for Northwestern.

“It still kind of seems unreal,” Nash said. “It’s tough to think about, that it’s my last home game in front of my home fans. It’s bittersweet-I wish I had another four years to do it all again.”

Nash initially came to campus with Kevin Coble, Jeff Ryan, Ivan Peljusic and walk-on Matt Steger. But Coble and Ryan suffered season-ending injuries in November and will return in 2010-11, Peljusic redshirted as a freshman, and Steger will graduate but hasn’t played all year.

That leaves Nash as the last man standing. He’s the only senior receiving any playing time and the lone scholarship player NU will lose at the end of the season.

“Me and Steger were talking in class, and we were just like, ‘Wow, we came in with five, and now it’s the two of us leaving together,'” Nash said. “It’s kind of strange that it’s just us two now.”

During his first two years in Evanston, Nash was a marginal contributor. He missed time at the start of his sophomore campaign due to an injury and was one of the least-used rotation players. Meanwhile, his classmates were making an impact. Coble led the team in points and rebounds both seasons, and Ryan was a productive reserve, even starting 22 games.

Then Nash, who coach Bill Carmody has often said was a “dilettante” during the first half of his career, took a significant step forward before his junior season.

“He’s always had a lot of talent, and he’s a very smart player,” Carmody said. “I think he just put more time into it and realized it was important to him. He’s a hardheaded guy, which is good, but he fought us a little bit. He’s really come around and given himself over to us.”

Though Nash’s playing time only increased slightly last year, his role grew dramatically. Coming off the bench in every contest, he averaged the fourth-most minutes on the team and established himself as the Cats’ best defender.

NU’s improvement mirrored Nash’s development. After finishing a combined 3-31 in Big Ten play when Nash was a freshman and sophomore, the Cats went 17-14 last year and earned their first NIT bid in a decade.

“He helped us a lot and really turned games around at the top of the 1-3-1 zone with his activity level,” Carmody said.

The graduation of shooting guard Craig Moore propelled Nash to a spot in the starting lineup this season. He has stepped up by ranking fourth in the conference with 47 steals and scoring 9.3 points per game, more than twice his average last year.

The injuries to Coble and Ryan have also forced him to assume more leadership duties, and his aggressive mentality has rubbed off on his teammates.

“Most people get excited off their offensive play, but he gets excited off defense,” junior point guard Michael Thompson said. “The entire team feeds off that energy. He’s just had a phenomenal year. We want to send him off with a bang.”

Though Nash’s ultimate goal is to play in the NBA, he said he would also consider competing overseas like Moore. And if a playing career doesn’t work out, Nash hopes to go into coaching so he can “help kids get better and help lead them to a better life.”

As much as Nash has enjoyed playing for Carmody, his coaching style would be slightly different.

“I’d probably be a little bit easier with the kids-you’ve seen him during games,” Nash said.Carmody’s reaction to Nash’s future plans: “He might be a smart player, but he’s not that smart if he wants to be a coach. You can quote me on that.”

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