Men’s Basketball: Freshmen bring excitement to upcoming season

Tim Balk, Reporter

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Chris Collins’ face lights up when he talks about his freshmen.

An aura of positivity surrounds the second-year coach’s program, and his incoming class of freshman — six altogether — is a major reason why.

Although Collins’ first season in Evanston was undoubtedly a slog — the Wildcats struggled to keep with bigger, faster, deeper Big Ten opponents — a stingy defense helped yield some positive results, none more notable than Northwestern’s road win over Wisconsin in January. Collins clearly wants to build NU into a team that makes those types of wins a regular occurrence. For a program that has never made an NCAA Tournament, the construction begins with a new class of freshmen.

“I think they all bring things to the table that we’ve needed,” Collins said at Media Day on Wednesday. “They’re all confident kids.”

There is Vic Law of course, the 6-foot-7-inch freshman forward from nearby South Holland, Illinois, who was widely considered a recruiting coup for the Purple and White. Law has an NBA look to him, with long arms that seem to almost reach his knees and a quietly confident persona.

Law is a self-described “perfectionist,” and Collins speaks glowingly about him.

“The thing I love about Vic is really his all-around skill set,” Collins said. “Vic’s one of those guys that’s going to stuff a stat sheet.”

Law is joined by other first-years forward Scottie Lindsey, forward Nick Segura, guard Bryant McIntosh, forward Gavin Skelly and guard Johnnie Vassar. Collins thinks Vassar will fill a key need for NU.

“With Vassar, he’s just different,” Collins said. “He’s a hard guard. You know, we just haven’t had that element, a strong, fast, quick explosive guy … We were down in games last year, we didn’t have any way to pick up the tempo … if we were losing, it was hard for us to come back.”

The Cats’ veteran leaders certainly seem happy with the additions.

“We have more athleticism,” said guard JerShon Cobb, a senior leader and the team’s leading returning scorer. “We just have more guys that can play.”

“I feel old sometimes,” Cobb said with a grin. “But these guys are great, so it’s easy.”

Collins recognizes that the group of newcomers will have a major impact on the season.

“I don’t want to put too much on them too early, but yet, we need a lot of them to be good,” Collins said. “We’re pushing them … but I don’t want them to live with the expectation that they have to be saviors, especially right away as freshmen because that’s just unrealistic.”

Collins knows college basketball has become a sport that is in many ways dominated by freshmen.

“You’re seeing guys go pro early and do different things,” he said. “Freshmen are counted on more than they’ve ever been.”

He also recognizes the importance of experience.

“We want guys that can come in and be impact players right away, but I think ultimately, for us to be a program that lasts long term, we have to have veteran teams, older guys that know what we’re about and know how to win at this level,” Collins said. “(This) is such a teaching year, and that’s why I’ve got to lean on my veterans. The six guys coming back, they can help me and help those guys grow up as quickly as possible.”

Once they have “grown up,” the wins might start piling up in Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Twitter: @TimBalk