Men’s Basketball: Wildcats prepare for new season as practices begin


Daily file photo by Brian Lee

Senior guard JerShon Cobb is one of three Wildcats captains entering the 2014-15 season. Cobb and his fellow veterans will be responsible for helping a highly touted freshman class adapt to life in the Big Ten.

Jesse Kramer, Reporter

Less than a week into the preseason, Northwestern’s freshman class is already snagging most of the attention.

At Wednesday’s practice, freshmen Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey, Gavin Skelly and Bryant McIntosh flashed some thunderous dunks and alley-oops while media recorded the action on phones and cameras.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Wildcats sat on the bleachers behind the basket.

And attention is not the only thing the group of newcomers could be taking from the upperclassmen. There are plenty of minutes available, and coach Chris Collins has said many times that class and experience will not matter when he eventually has to make a starting lineup for the Cats’ season opener on Nov. 7.

“There’s no deals with any of our players,” Collins said. “I’ve never known a coach that didn’t play the guys he thought could help him win. … (The freshmen) all can play, and I think they’re all going to be called upon this year to help us.”

Two veterans that could see some minutes taken away are sophomore forward Nathan Taphorn and senior guard Dave Sobolewski.

Taphorn struggled in his freshman season, averaging just 2.5 points in 10.3 minutes per game. The 6-foot-7-inch forward’s reputation is as a shooter, but he drained only 27.8 percent of his 3-pointers.

To become more effective, Taphorn said he started making changes to his body once the offseason began.

“I wasn’t expecting as much bang to my body,” he said. “In high school, you’re playing one or two games a week. But college, it’s almost like playing five games a week because of practice, and practice is more enduring than high school. It was a big adjustment.”

Taphorn bulked up this offseason, putting on 25 pounds. He is now listed at 215.

Between Law and Lindsey, the Cats have two players who could be upgraded versions of Taphorn.

Law, a top-100 recruit, already has the skill set to be an effective player in the Big Ten. Collins said he sees Law as someone who will “stuff the stat sheet” because of his versatility.

“I like to play with versatile guys,” Collins said. “(Law’s) game really is to be a jack of all trades and bring a lot of different things to the table.”

Law can put the ball on the floor, rebound and shoot with some 3-point range. Collins said Law’s passing ability has also impressed him.

Lindsey, like Taphorn, is known as a shooter. The 6-foot-5-inch wing was draining triples from out of bounds in practice, and his leaping ability displays athleticism that Taphorn has not shown he can match.

“Scottie Lindsey, to me, has the opportunity to be a tremendous player,” Collins said. “The kid can just score. He’s got almost a 7-foot wingspan. As he continues to get stronger, he’s got a huge upside to his career.”

Taphorn said that he will continue trying to earn a starting spot even though there is more competition among the team’s forwards this season. With his improved body, he hopes to be a more versatile player so that he can better fit into NU’s offense.

“Guys close out on me really hard since they know I’m a shooter,” Taphorn said. “One of the things coach has emphasized was I needed to drive more and pump fake, use that weapon as a decoy and go to the rim.”

Taphorn attempted only 13 2-pointers last season.

Sobolewski tried 2-pointers and 3-pointers last year, and nothing was working. He had the second-worst offensive rating in the Big Ten and the worst of any player used in at least 20 percent of his team’s possessions, according to

Sobolewski was named a team captain, along with senior guard JerShon Cobb and junior guard Tre Demps, in September. But as Collins said, that does not give him any special deal into the starting lineup.

Sobolewski started 21 of his 27 games at point guard last season, but there wasn’t much competition since Cobb and Demps are more naturally scorers than distributors.

With two-time Indiana state champion McIntosh on the roster, there is now a battle for that starting spot.

“Your role is developed through practice, playing hard and just trying to earn time,” McIntosh said. “ (There are) a lot of new guys who want to play, as well as the old guys. Everybody’s fighting for time and a position.”

McIntosh said he thinks his winning experience and understanding of late-game scenarios can add a lot to the team.

But he also understands that transitioning to the college game presents challenges. He thanked Sobolewski for guiding him through the process even though they are competing for the same job.

“Sobo is a great leader,” McIntosh said. “He’s helped me understand some of the small things you wouldn’t think are a big deal but are, like footwork and getting your shot off quicker. We understand we both want to play. Off the court we’re teammates, and on the court we’re battling for a position.”

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