As Bill Carmody sat in the Assembly Hall media room, my mind was stuck on his press conference from days before.
Following a humiliating home drubbing served up by Iowa, the head coach asked for more from his senior leadership. I perceived it as a calling out. Carmody was quick to correct me.
“’Called out’ is a little harsh,” he said in response to a question on Thursday. “Challenged might be a little bit better.”
With no hesitation, I agree with Carmody; his words to the seniors weren’t meant to be abrasive. Yet the revision on Thursday was quite intriguing.
You couldn’t blame Carmody for having some frustration with those he challenged—Jared Swopshire, Reggie Hearn, and Alex Marcotullio. Prior to the contest in Champaign, the trio had averaged just 26.5 points per game. The most damning thing, though, was how the three had been attempting only 17.9 field goals per game.
Three battled-tested basketball players had looked lost. Their hesitance was simply inexcusable.
Without Drew Crawford and Jershon Cobb in the lineup, this season is very much a project for Northwestern. Each game provides the chance for growth, shaping the program’s promising future. But the seniors aren’t just along for the ride.
The 68-54 win over Illinois illustrated what this Wildcat team can do any given night. The young players did enough to contribute—a fair expectation at this point—while Hearn, Swopshire, and Marcotullio combined to score 44 points.
This doesn’t have to be a lost season for Northwestern, and the team’s veterans will be the first to explain that. But without urgency and effort each game, it’s purely rhetoric. The Wildcats will thrive or fail based on their leadership’s performance.
That’s why Carmody demanded more from his seniors. He recognizes the talent and experience of Jared Swopshire, whom he brought in from Louisville. He knows the abilities of Reggie Hearn and Alex Marcotullio, two cornerstones during Northwestern’s recent run of success. Not only were they underachieving, but they didn’t show the will to win.
Carmody isn’t a rah-rah type who needs to use fictitious motivators. So that’s why he was quick to dismiss the notion that he called out his seniors; rather, posing a simple challenge. He believes in the group, but didn’t want to humiliate it. That’s just not his nature.
The season is far from over, and Northwestern’s dreams of dancing—while undoubtedly bleak—still exist. It will take a heroic effort from seasoned veterans like Swopshire, Hearn, and Marcotullio, leading their team through treacherous waters.
It’s a challenge the seniors must accept.