Men’s Basketball: Anthony ‘Officer’ Gaines looks to handcuff the Big Ten’s best players

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Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Anthony Gaines drives to the basket. The junior guard will be tasked with guarding the Big Ten’s best players this season.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Web Editor

Anthony Gaines said the idea just came to him.

With Vic Law graduated, Gaines knew he would have to be the linchpin of Northwestern’s defense. So the junior guard went to work by handcuffing his teammates in practice — literally.

“He comes to practice every day with handcuffs and puts them on someone’s locker to say, ‘This is who I’m locking up today,’” junior forward A.J. Turner said. “He’s running with that, and he sets the tone defensively.”

Gaines is not shy about his goal of being Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and Turner expressed his confidence in his teammate’s ability to win the award. Over his four years, Law usually guarded the opposing team’s leading scorer, and that responsibility now falls on Gaines.

And it’s clear he’s embracing it, too, buying a badge in addition to the handcuffs.

“I always joke about shackles around people’s wrists,” Gaines said. “The idea came to me to get handcuffs. When I was looking up handcuffs, I saw the badge, so I got the handcuffs and the badge and started calling myself Officer Gaines.”

Gaines added that his teammates have taken to calling him “Officer Gaines” as well, saying they get nervous whenever he guards them. He said sophomore forward Miller Kopp and graduate guard Pat Spencer are his favorite teammates to “handcuff” in practice, citing Kopp’s offensive skill set and Spencer’s competitive spirit.

But once the season starts, Gaines will be tasked with defending some of the best players in the nation. The Big Ten has a plethora of talented guards, including Michigan State’s Cassius Winston, Maryland’s Anthony Cowan Jr. and Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu, all of whom were named to the preseason all-conference team.

“The main part of my game is defending the other team’s best player, being that energy guy, that tough player defensively,” Gaines said. “Getting the last stop and taking the key player on the other team out. That’s my mindset going into this year, like it is every year. It’s something I’m looking to lock into more.”

Before missing time this summer while recovering from a foot injury, Gaines played the best defense of his career toward the end of last season. He set a career high with four steals on Feb. 28 against Minnesota, then topped it with five steals in the Wildcats’ Big Ten Tournament loss to Illinois on March 13.

Gaines said he has learned a lot about communicating on the defensive end of the floor from Law, who was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team in 2017, the year NU played in the NCAA Tournament. Although Law is three inches taller, Gaines said the two are similar players.

Coach Chris Collins said Gaines has improved significantly on offense as well, but his play was a constant on defense, even though the Cats’ struggles in conference play.

“I’m not a big gimmicky guy, I’m not a big costumes guy, but if seeing those handcuffs gives him a mindset of ‘I’m going to go out and lock you up defensively tonight,’ if that gets him in that mode, I’m all for it,” Collins said. “We really believe he can be one of those shutdown defenders that you have to have to be successful in our conference.”

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