Men’s Basketball: Collins, Wildcats gearing up for fresh campaign


Daily file photo by Meghan White

Junior guard Dave Sobolewski plays against Iowa in the 2012-2013 season. Sobolewski and the Cats begin their season Wednesday with an exhibition against Lewis.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern is ready to stop talking and start playing.

After an offseason of conversation and anticipation, the Wildcats finally begin their season Wednesday with an exhibition against Lewis University.

Much of NU’s team returns from last year’s disappointing and injury-riddled 13-19 season, but the man in charge signals a new era.

“With all the injuries that had gone on last year, my goal was ‘let’s just start fresh,’” coach Chris Collins said in October. “New attitude, new energy. I’m coming in with a fresh set of eyes. I’m giving everybody a clean slate, and I think the guys have been energized by that.”

The Cats will debut one true freshman, swingman Nate Taphorn, and rely on several players who were limited a season ago. Likely backcourt starters junior JerShon Cobb and redshirt freshman Sanjay Lumpkin both missed essentially all of 2012-13, for very different reasons.

Cobb was suspended all season for poor academic performance, while Lumpkin redshirted when a wrist injury derailed his freshman year.

The team’s presumptive best player is also making a triumphant return.

Forward Drew Crawford played the first 10 games of the 2012-13 season before missing the rest of the year with a right shoulder injury.

The senior was granted a hardship waiver and, after some deliberation, chose to return to NU instead of spending his fifth season elsewhere. He will be, as Collins put it last month, the unquestioned leader of this team. Crawford hasn’t played competitive basketball in 11 months and is understandably anxious to return to the floor.

“It’s been a really long time, and I can’t even put it into words how excited I am,” the forward said. “We have a lot of guys on the team who didn’t play last year, so everyone is extremely hungry to get out there Wednesday.”

In addition to Crawford, Cobb and Lumpkin, junior point guard Dave Sobolewski and sophomore center Alex Olah will round out the starting lineup against Lewis. The duo started almost every game for NU in 2012-13 and will assume large roles again this season.

Wednesday’s exhibition doesn’t count toward the Cats’ official record but provides Collins an opportunity to survey all components of his team in a competitive game situation. The first-time coach said he will use the game to evaluate his players and also develop rotations and lineups in preparation for the regular season. It’s also an opportunity for the players to shake off some rust.

“They’re excited to play against other people,” Collins said. “All summer, all fall you’re constantly practicing and playing against the same guys every day. It’s nice to finally be out and compete against other teams.”

But Collins knows Lewis is no pushover. The Division II Flyers defeated Loyola 82-70 Saturday, their third victory over a Division I team since 2010. At Duke, where Collins served on the coaching staff for more than a decade, the Blue Devils have a tradition of playing the defending Division II national champion in their exhibition game. Those contests have taught the coach not to overlook any opponent, including Lewis.

“They will certainly have our attention,” Collins said. “I don’t think young players realize the fine line there is between playing at the highest level versus playing in the league Lewis plays in. Anyone can be beaten on any given night. … The margin of talent between what’s considered a low school versus a high school is not what it used to be.”

Collins said he is anxious going into his first game. After all, he said, it’s only natural.

“If you’re not nervous when you go into a game then something’s wrong with you,” he said. “If I didn’t have butterflies going into a game, then I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”

Check back Friday for a full Northwestern basketball season preview.

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Twitter: @AlexPutt02