Warren’s World: Vic Law’s two-way deal and its impact on Northwestern

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Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Vic Law dribbles during a 2019 game. The NU grad signed a two-way deal with the Orlando Magic this week.

Peter Warren, Sports Columnist

The plight of Northwestern men’s basketball on its way to its first March Madness appearance has been told so many times it’s pretty much become a cliche, from the white whale known as the NCAA Tournament, to the winless conference campaigns, to the disappointing losses intermixed with the occasional redeeming victory.

That odyssey closed its final chapter in March 2017, and its sequel was expected to bring more happy endings. But it’s been more of the same — the somber outpost known as Allstate Arena, the month-plus long losing streak of 2019, the Merrimack defeat and more.

But on Saturday, a new chapter sprouted the way most monumental basketball stories are formed: with the dropping of a Woj Bomb. Just minutes after the Wildcats defeated Nebraska for their first Big Ten win of the season, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Vic Law was signing a two-way deal with the Orlando Magic. 

For most schools, the news that an alum inked such a deal would mark just a cool achievement, and nothing more. But NU is not any school, and Law is not any player.

You didn’t have to be a basketball guru to know Law had the potential to be great. From the moment Law put on a Cats uniform, he had an “it-factor” no one else had. He could put the clamps on an opponent’s best offensive threat, and his 6-foot-11 wingspan and standout athleticism meant he could guard one-through-four and even some smaller fives. He played with the energy of a nuclear reactor. Injuries — he missed the entire 2015-16 campaign and only played one full season —always lurked in the background. But during his first three years, it was like watching the prototypical 3-and-D player who is beloved by scouts.

Then, after Bryant McIntosh graduated, Law added ball-handling to his game and looked like an All-Big Ten First Team player for the first two months of his senior season. During this stretch, Law was the alpha. He wanted the ball in his hands. His teammates wanted the ball in his hands. NU fans wanted the ball in his hands. And it was awesome to watch.

But then the injuries hit once again, and while he put up a few more memorable performances, he wasn’t the same player. It culminated on Senior Day in March, when Law’s college career ended not with a bang, or even a whimper, but with a hushed silence among thousands of fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena while he lay on the court injured.

As he was helped off the court and into the tunnel, many probably thought they were seeing the last of Law in a basketball uniform. Sure, Law had a professional future. But how many fans stream Juice Thompson’s games in France or Alex Olah’s in Spain? They may see highlights online, but it’s not the same as actually watching someone go about their craft. 

But Law worked hard after the season, and now he’s playing like he did at the beginning of last season. He’s been one of the best players in the G-League this season, averaging 18.5 points per game and 8.5 rebounds per game and ranking fifth in player efficiency. It’s tough to name many, if any, ballers who deserved this chance more than the Illinois native. 

The success of NU alumni in the NBA can be viewed as a microcosm of the program itself. According to RealGM, 16 former Cats players have suited up and played in the Association. And that list includes seven players who played just one season, and Rex Walters, who transferred to Kansas after two years in Evanston. 

Only two alumni — Evan Eschmeyer and Reggie Hearn — have stepped onto an NBA court in the 21st century. Eschmeyer was a second-team All-American who played five years for the New Jersey Nets and the Dallas Mavericksat the turn of the century. Hearn, who was a walk-on for NU, played in three games in 2018 and continues to grind away in the G-League.

It hasn’t been an easy season for NU. It’s on its way to another losing season, and almost all momentum generated from the end of the 2017 campaign is gone.

But when Law steps on the court in a Magic uniform and becomes the 17th player on that list, it will mean so much to the program. He represents the past — the conclusion of an almost 80-year journey through college basketball’s Ionian Islands to reach its Ithaca. He represents the present — the new standard-bearer bringing recognition to the Cats on a new level. And he represents the future — as Chris Collins’ first player to make the Association, he will be held on a pedestal in recruiting. And his legacy, which already placed him in an elite tier of NU athletes, will continue to be elevated.

Peter Warren is a Medill junior. 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.

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