Whenever a coach is fired, there will always be player transfers and recruits to decommit. That’s the reality of recruiting in college sports, where player commits to a school based on his relationship with the coaching staff rather than the university itself.
When longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins took the Northwestern job on March 27, dark clouds of uncertainty hovered over Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wildcats were coming off a trying 13-19 campaign in 2012-13 and had just fired Bill Carmody after 13 seasons.
The program’s prized recruit from the Class of 2013, top-100 player Jaren Sina, retracted his commitment and opted for Seton Hall (where Fred Hill, a former assistant under Carmody, had just been hired). The Wildcats’ best player, 6-5 guard Drew Crawford, had missed most of last season with a shoulder injury.
Granted a medical redshirt, a big decision loomed for the fifth-year senior. Under NCAA rules, a player who has graduated with one year of playing eligibility remaining is eligible to transfer to another school and play immediately.
Northwestern’s prospects for next season would largely hinge on Crawford, an All-Big Ten third-team selection in 2011-12, and Collins knew it. It was paramount for him and his staff to build a relationship with Crawford in order to convince him to stay. Last Friday, their efforts paid off when the school announced that Crawford will return for a fifth season.
While there’s no guarantee that next season will finally be “the year,” Crawford’s decision to stay in Evanston was the first major victory for Chris Collins and his staff. Yes, they lost a commitment from arguably the highest-rated recruit in recent memory, but Collins will still have plenty of talent to work with in his first season.
Crawford alone is one of the best (not to mention most experienced) guards in the Big Ten, and when you throw in guard JerShon Cobb, who returns from a season-long academic suspension, you already have a formidable lineup for the Wildcats. There is also 7-foot center Alex Olah, who had a solid freshman season, as well as role players Dave Sobolewski, Tre Demps and Kale Abrahamson to round out the rotation.
To clarify: Northwestern is hardly a postseason team. Even if Chris Collins’ squad did possess the talent to compete in the stacked Big Ten right now, the weight of the school’s infamous Cubs-like tournament drought is too great for fans to be optimistic. But there is no doubt that the return of both Crawford and Cobb is a big first step for Collins in this new era of Northwestern Basketball.