Not many coaches in college basketball can say they are returning four of five starters from a 20-win team, but Bill Carmody can make that claim. Most importantly, he has one more season with John Shurna, whose potential is unlimited.
During his sophomore and junior seasons, Shurna tallied 1,150 total points—the second-most points scored a Wildcat player has scored in a two-year span. He currently ranks 10th on Northwestern's all-time scoring list, and is on pace to become the program's all-time leading scorer.
For Northwestern's head coach, the return of Shurna brings one fewer worry as the season approaches.
If the Glen Ellyn native were to stay in the draft and forgo his senior season, Carmody would have had a difficult time in trying to fill the hole at the forward position, while hoping somebody could replace Shurna's scoring production.
A Shurna departure would have made Drew Crawford—who was inconsistent during his sophomore season—a go-to scorer for the Wildcats. While the junior-to-be is undoubtedly improving, Shurna is a great compliment as Crawford continues to develop
The loss of Shurna would have put a lot on the plates of Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti. They would face added pressure in losing the 6-8 forward. Before Shurna, the next-tallest player on next season's roster would be incoming freshman Mike Turner. Mirkovic and Curletti would need to become elite post players overnight. Instead, Shurna's return brings great size and versatility on each end of the court.
The two Wildcats who are likely the most excited about Shurna's return are incoming freshmen David Sobolewski and Tre Demps, who will both be in the mix to take over as starting point guard. Both players now have a go-to scorer to look for.
The 6-8 forward is coming off a season where he averaged 16.6 points per game, while improving his three-point shooting percentage by nearly eight points from his sophomore season.
With Michael Thompson departing, Shurna will need to take on the role of "the guy" in his senior season. With Shurna battling health problems this past season, Thompson stepped into that role as the go-to scorer when the Wildcats needed a big shot. While Shurna would never admit it, he was largely limited last season—thanks to his ankle. His season began with a promising outlook, but he didn't look like John Shurna till postseason play.
In lieu of Shurna, Juice Thompson wore an extra hat for part of the season. Next season, the Wildcats won't have that luxury. Fortunately for Shurna, he will be back to full strength.
Shurna's junior season could be considered a disappointing one for him individually, but only based off of how the ankle injury and concussion limited him.
As the Wildcats entered their match with Mount St. Mary's with their undefeated record in hand, Shurna was averaging 23.3 points per game, and was near the top of the NCAA for scoring and three-point shooting. At that point, he had twice won the Big Ten Player of the Week, and was on the Wooden Award Midseason Watch List. All of the honors diminished as his numbers took a dive.
What's next for John Shurna? The possibilities are endless and his potential is very high.
With the luck of good health, Shurna could realistically become one of the game's elite scorers. He has the potential to return to his 20+ points per game pace. Prior to his injury struggles, the forward was improving his game on defense—becoming a better rebounder. If that picks up this next season, it will only help Shurna fine tune his game to become a more complete NBA forward.
For the Wildcats, Shurna's return will be felt all around. Shurna's departure would have officially started a rebuilding process for the NU basketball program. Now, they are a legitimate NCAA tournament team.
The return of John Shurna brings a rightful feeling of optimism and hope that this could be a big year for the Northwestern Wildcats.