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Jochnau: There is more to Northwestern athletics than wins and losses

(Daily file photo by Colin Boyle) Godwin Igwebuike runs with the ball in the Pinstripe Bowl. The junior will return to Northwestern for a senior season.

(Daily file photo by Colin Boyle) Godwin Igwebuike runs with the ball in the Pinstripe Bowl. The junior will return to Northwestern for a senior season.

Garrett Jochnau, Sports Editor

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When it comes to men’s basketball, Northwestern isn’t a perennial NCAA Tournament contender like Duke. Instead, the Wildcats have been perennial losers, missing the Dance every year since the inception of March Madness in 1939.

On the football front, NU isn’t Alabama, a likely playoff mainstay. For the Cats, December’s Pinstripe Bowl victory was celebrated like a national championship.

So let’s not mince words. Nobody would confuse NU for an athletic powerhouse.

But there’s an element to Wildcats sports that makes the school charming and easy to appreciate for a particular brand of sports fan.

Long before I cared about college sports, I hopped on the San Antonio Spurs bandwagon in the early 2000s. As many an NBA fan will admit, there’s something special and unique about the team. Beyond the consistent success, there is a distinct manner in which the franchise operates. “The Spurs way,” if you will.

A key pillar to that — and one that keeps me returning year after year — is San Antonio’s reputation for developing in-house talent, rather than chasing superstar free agents. Until this year, I had never known an NBA without Tim Duncan, who went from rookie to legend over the course of my lifetime. I watched Kawhi Leonard get drafted and have since seen him transform into a superstar before my very eyes.

Now, the Cats also aren’t the Spurs; the element of success is discernibly absent. But the reality of being a selective academic school that, quite simply, cannot attract elite talent makes NU similarly endearing from a player development standpoint.

Recently, junior linebacker Anthony Walker announced he would leave the football program with eligibility remaining, becoming the first Wildcat to do so since running back Darnell Autry in 1996. But Walker will have already wrapped up his academic career at NU. Unlike others who leave college early, he’ll do so with a sense of finality.

Junior Godwin Igwebuike was also thought to have NFL aspirations this year, but he announced his decision to return just days after the Pinstripe Bowl.

Because of that decision, Igwebuike will be able to complete his collegiate journey — with NU faithful right alongside him when he does.

The same goes for the many talents that pass through Welsh-Ryan Arena. There aren’t any one-and-done NBA prospects to bring the basketball program glory, but students get the opportunity to watch recruits evolve as they too grow up at college.

So yes, there are times when a bit more success from the revenue programs would be nice. And there certainly are schools that have found a nice balance between winning and development. But overall, NU students should appreciate that, year after year, their school is more than a stepping stone for the athletes that pass through.

Garrett Jochnau is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.