For Alex Olah, some things have come naturally.
Take, for example, the most hyped hook shot in Northwestern history. Asked about the seven-foot freshman, teammates rave about his unique offensive game.
There are no surprises about it. Get the ball into Olah and prepare for his signature hook.
“It just came to me,” Olah said. “That’s what I use every time when I’m in the post. I use a quick move, and then I use my hook shot.”
Other things came less smoothly.
After verbally committing to NU on Apr. 13, 2011, Olah was forced to wait more than a year to fax his letter of intent after missing the November early-signing deadline. In that time, though, he visited Evanston several times and grew to love his future teammates.
But he was also growing impatient to learn. The Princeton offense was a whole different beast.
“I watched every game,” he said. “I tried to figure out this offense by myself, but it was impossible.”
The Traders Point (IN) product also noticed that the center spot left something to be desired.
He could hardly believe the frequent timid play from senior centers Davide Curletti and Luka Mirkovic, who combined for only 9.6 points per game last season.
“I was kind of frustrated sometimes,” he said. “For example, Luka or Curletti would be open at the top of the key. They were wide open. I’m like, ‘Why are you not taking that shot? Shoot the ball.’”
Everything straightened itself out when he arrived on campus.
Olah waited for his turn, and with minimal depth in the frontcourt, he is expected by many to earn the starting spot at center.
Moving from high school to the Big Ten is quite the leap. Olah is lucky to have a partner in adjustment.
Olah lives in a dorm room with fellow freshman Kale Abrahamson. The two hit it off and became close friends, forming the Northwestern version of a power couple. They even have speakers.
“Me and Kale are just perfect together,” Olah said. “I don’t think I can ask for a better roommate.”
Thankfully for NU, Olah has settled into more than just his room.
With one week remaining until the team opens with an exhibition against the University of Chicago, he appears to be ready for action.
Olah credited the senior class and sophomore Dave Sobolewski for helping his transition. What the coaching staff fails to correct, he knows his teammates will.
As a player who is confident and comfortable with his jump shot, Olah will not be restricted to the post. Rather, the coaching staff embraces his versatility.
“The way we play, we need our big guys to be mobile,” associate head coach Tavaras Hardy said. “We’re not just going to plant them under the basket and say, ‘Yo, you’re a seven-footer. That’s all you can do.’”
After his initial skepticism and confusion, Olah views the Princeton attack as a good fit for his game. He hopes to contribute immediately.
“This offense is great for me,” he said. “I love it: I can touch the ball in the post and have open shots. I think I’m going to help a lot.”
Olah faces a major learning curve. Although he has international experience as a member of the Romanian U-18 team, he rarely faced players who matched his height.
Mirkovic and Curletti seemed overmatched in previous seasons, but much of that can be attributed to strong play from big men around the conference. Perhaps most important is how quickly he can settle in. So far, so good.
“He’s adapted quicker than pretty much anybody,” Abrahamson said. “If he gets the whole package and gets used to the physicality of it all, he’ll be great in this league. He’s been playing great since day one.”
In recent practices, coach Bill Carmody has often used one word to instruct Olah: “Run.” There is no doubt that before a steady diet of minutes comes his way, Olah needs to work on his conditioning.
Carmody recruited several big men for obvious reasons. In past seasons, the Cats struggled to keep opposing forwards off the glass and off the scoreboard. Olah noted there is considerable room for improvement, saying his defense is “not really good.”
Of course, the size helps and the potential is there.
“He’s a big dude,” Abrahamson said. “It’s hard to move him around on defense so I think he’ll be an asset down there.”
Looking to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time, NU will lean on several untested players – perhaps none more so than Olah.
But Olah, blessed with offensive ability, inspires a great deal of optimism in these parts.
It could be just what this team needs to get over the top.
“Certainly we’re excited about him,” Hardy said. “We’re excited about the various things he brings to this team. As long as he keeps working hard, the sky is the limit for that kid.”
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