When Drew Crawford was shut down for the season, head coach Bill Carmody met privately with Dave Sobolewski and posed a challenge.
Crawford has been the heart of his Northwestern team, offering scoring and an emotional boost on the court, and also guidance and friendship in the locker room. Carmody asked the sophomore point guard to lead the team like a senior.
“He’s accepted that and he’s telling people what to do, how to do it,” added Carmody.
During his decorated career, Crawford has record 1,408 points in a Northwestern uniform, and was poised to carry his team through the campaign, with an NCAA tournament berth as the goal. Now, the Wildcats are in need of a boost on offense. Freshman Kale Abrahamson will assume Crawford’s starting role, while rotating with Sanjay Lumpkin and Tre Demps.
Northwestern’s new-look lineup has high potential, but is still very raw. That’s where Sobolewski’s presence is essential.
“We need those new guys to step in and do positive things for us,” Sobolewski said. “If it means I need to be a little bit more of a playmaker for myself and for others, then I’ll gladly do that.
“I just need to be a part of it a little bit more; not necessarily scoring, but getting an open shot for a guy in the corner, whatever it needs to be. With Drew, he can create shots for himself or other guys.”
Nobody has brought Northwestern more energy this season than Sobolewski. During a contest with Baylor, he battled back and forth with standout point guard Pierre Jackson—even scrapping and trash-talking at times. It was the life his team needed to earn an unlikely victory.
Sobolewski has played with a will to win, and it has rubbed off on his Wildcat teammates.
“Somebody needs to show that everything’s going to be OK out on the floor,” said Sobolewski. Even if that means being a little more energetic out there.”
But Sobolewski’s style of play isn’t anything new. He plays with emotion and physicality; just as Carmody saw of him on the recruiting trails.
“He’s physically tough and he’s mentally tough,” Carmody said. “Some guys think tough is being in a fight. I don’t think he’d be opposed to that. But he’s also a mentally tough kid. A bad play doesn’t affect the rest of his game. He keeps going on and on and he seems to come through in tough situations.”
Different for Sobolewski is his part in practice. He may just be a sophomore, but after a full season of action in the Big Ten, he plays like a seasoned veteran. With new freshmen entering the fold—just as Sobolewski once did—he must now play the role of teacher, too.
“When they mess up, you’ve got to take advantage, grab them, and fix it,” said Sobolewski. “If they don’t fix it, you’ve got to start getting on them until they understand how important each possession can be. We saw better than anybody that one possession can change games, can changes seasons.”
Sobolewski is the perfect mentor for his young teammates. As a freshman, he started all 33 games, seeing 35.2 minutes per game in the heat of pressure situations. With that experience under his belt, Sobolewski has played with confidence, and avoided the dreaded ‘sophomore slump.’
“I feel like I’ve seen everything that’s going to be thrown my way,” Sobolewski said. “Nothing surprises me at this point. I’ve seen pressure, I’ve seen all kinds of defense, and I’ve seen all kinds of schemes.”
With no Drew Crawford on the court, many pundits have predicted it’s a lost season for Northwestern—just a rebuilding effort. Don’t tell that to Sobolewski.
“I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” he said. “We’re still going to play with 100 percent of our energy and try to get better each day. Hopefully, we’ll still win a lot of games this year.”