Putterman: Northwestern should be thankful for JerShon Cobb and Dave Sobolewski


Alex Putterman, Web Editor

Dave Sobolewski and JerShon Cobb did not have easy college careers.

Sobolewski showed up expecting to play a very specific offense — Bill Carmody’s Princeton — and for two years thrived doing so. Then, before the point guard’s junior season, coach Chris Collins showed up, threw out the old playbook and started over. Sobolewski sputtered, and by his senior year he hardly played.

He didn’t complain.

Cobb was suspended for what would have been his junior year and missed substantial time to injury every season he suited up for. This year, his fifth and final one in purple, he averaged a career-low 6.1 points per game, partly because of injury and partly because the program had begun to pass him by.

He didn’t complain.

When Collins removed Sobolewski and Cobb from Thursday’s season-ending loss to Indiana, he embraced the seniors for even longer than custom dictates. When the duo finally walked to the bench, Sobolewski openly cried, while Cobb appeared on the verge of tears.

As the NU program so persistently hypes its future, we’ve forgotten to appreciate its past and consider the parallel universe in which Sobolewski and Cobb played starring roles in their farewell seasons.

If Carmody had remained the Wildcats’ coach, Sobolewski would likely still be the team’s point guard, scoring in double figures while facilitating a novelty offense for which he is perfectly suited. Cobb’s production was curtailed by injury, but under different circumstances he might have played a greater role when healthy. Given NU’s unabashed youth movement, affording opportunity to freshmen became a more practical priority.

And yet, after the game, Sobolewski and Cobb both emphasized their lack of regret. A red-eyed Soblewski began to say he didn’t regret coming to NU — a second-guessing he would be entitled to given the program’s tumult — then cut himself off, as if scoffing at the mere thought.

“I don’t regret a single thing,” Sobolewski said, slouched over in full uniform while his teammates changed in the locker room around him. “Was there adversity? Absolutely. But I don’t regret a single thing I did, a single thing that happened. I feel very thankful for the four years I had.”

Cobb said he was glad to still be part of the program, happy NU “stuck with me through everything,” as if he owed the school profound gratitude and not the other way around.

College sports programs pray for player loyalty they don’t necessarily deserve. Schools don’t promise to act in players’ best on-court interests but expect the guys in uniform to unconditionally act in the program’s. Fans, coaches and writers alike forget about a player when his performance falls off but assume the player won’t forget the program when transferring would better serve him.

From a school and fan-base’s perspective, Cobb and Sobolewski represent the ideal college athlete, the type who will put aside self-interest for the sake of the program, who will accept his seat on the bench when asked to do so, who will assume the role of veteran leader when he dreams of playing hero.

Sobolewski and Cobb — who both called the other a friend for life — aren’t a regular senior class. They’re one that sacrificed greatly for their program for essentially no basketball-related reward. Everyone ends up described as a “team player” at some point or another, but not everyone gives up a chance at playing time and glory for the opportunity to coach their replacements from the sideline.

Collins recognizes what he asked of his two seniors. As he, in his words, “upended” the program midway through their careers, they handled disappointment and demotion as well as could be asked. If they bristled behind the scenes, the dissent never became public. To an outsider’s eye, Sobolewski and Cobb didn’t waver from their team-centric outlooks.

As Collins pulled the duo from the floor Thursday, he attempted to express his gratefulness.

“I thanked them for their belief in me and our staff to hang with us,” he said at his news conference afterward, “to not jump ship, to run to another school, to be a part of this build.”

Sobolewski and Cobb won’t be around to see the current freshman class blossom and won’t play for the team that eventually lifts NU to the NCAA tournament. They’ll settle for having served their roles, even when the responsibilities were half the size they might have wanted.

“I’m glad to say I’m a Northwestern Wildcat,” Cobb said Thursday, without a hint of insincerity.

The senior had it backwards. More than Cobb and Sobolewski should be happy for their affiliation with the Northwestern Wildcats, the school and the program should be honored by their affiliation with JerShon Cobb and Dave Sobolewski.

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Twitter: @AlexPutt02