Men’s Basketball: Freshman Taphorn finding footing early on


Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

Nathan Taphorn is the only true freshman on Northwestern’s squad. Coach Chris Collins called the forward “one of our best shooters if not our best shooter.”

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

First things first: what to call that Taphorn kid? He’s listed as “Nathan” on his official Northwestern Athletics Web page but “Nate” on His Twitter name is “Nathan,” but his Twitter handle is “NU_nate32.”

“Whatever one flows,” Taphorn said this week. “Coaches call me Nate or Tap. It’s never Nathan. If I’m getting called Nathan by one of my friends or by my parents — it’s either Nathan Patrick or just Nathan — I know I’m in trouble or something’s wrong.”

Taphorn could also go by frosh, as he’s the only true freshman on this year’s Wildcat team. Originally a Bill Carmody recruit, the Illinois native stayed committed when coach Chris Collins replaced Carmody last spring.

Such loyalty was no forgone conclusion, as Carmody’s other Class of 2017 commit, Jaren Sina, jumped ship after the coach’s firing. But Taphorn’s attraction to NU went beyond the man at the program’s helm.

“I fell in love with the school and fell in love with the program,” he said. “I liked coach Carmody but I love coach Collins, too. All these guys that have come on board, and the whole staff has just brought me in. It’s been a new family.”

Sophomore forward Kale Abrahamson competes for playing time with Taphorn but is “best buddies” with the freshman off the court. Abrahamson said he is impressed with Taphorn’s maturity and his ability to blend in with the team so quickly.

“He’s a cool cat,” Abrahamson said. “Normally freshmen are a little slow to mix in with the guys and get acclimated. I probably was much more slow than he was. He just kind of fit right in.”

Settling into the team on the court has been less smooth.

Taphorn scored 10 points in 23 minutes in NU’s exhibition game and 5 points in 25 minutes in the team’s season-opener. But the forward’s contributions have since declined. He’s played only 33 minutes in the Cats’ last three games and has not made a field goal during that time.

Still, he said, you can’t get “too down on the downs and too high on highs.”

“I have a lot of abilities,” he said. “And I haven’t used them all. To help this team I need to bring out more of my strengths, and do what I can, whether it’s screening or rebounding or whatever.”

Collins called Taphorn “one of our best shooters if not our best shooter” but said he’s careful not to pigeonhole players into specific roles. Everyone, the coach said, will need to do everything, especially in upcoming weeks.

The Cats are currently embedded in a difficult segment of schedule. Wednesday’s win over Illinois-Chicago was the first of five games in 10 games, as NU next faces IUPUI on Friday. That game, in Evanston, begins the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, during which the Cats will also host Gardner-Webb, before taking on Missouri and UCLA in Nevada next week.

As the schedule becomes busier and the opponents better, depth becomes more important. Taphorn and Abrahamson — NU’s eighth and ninth men, in some order — will surely play important roles over the next week and a half. Taphorn’s positional flexibility will be especially helpful in case of foul trouble, injury or ineffectiveness from a starter.

“He’s not a two, he’s not a three, he’s not a four. He’s just a player,” Collins said.

Growing pains are inevitable, but Collins is optimistic about Taphorn’s future contributions.

“Nate is going to be a really good player here,” Collins said. “I’m really high on Nate. He’s got really good size, he really shoots the ball well, he’s got a good feel for the game. Right now he’s just a freshman. He’s going through that transition. … It’s all part of the learning process.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the graduation year of Jaren Sina. He is in the Class of 2017. The Daily regrets the error. 

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Twitter: @AlexPutt02