With the future of Northwestern basketball on his mind, Chris Collins somehow endured a nearly 30-minute introductory press conference on April 2nd. Immediately after greeting the NU community and igniting the program’s spirits, he made several decisions that had–and will continue to have–major influence as he attempts to revive the team.
The following day, we learned that Collins dismissed former assistants Fred Hill and Ivan Vujic. He wisely retained Tavaras Hardy, and this in all likelihood contributed to yesterday’s unbelievable news. Because, really, we can guess that those two members of the (glass) half-full NU staff wasted no time in discussing their major recruiting potential. The following week, Collins visited one four-star small forward named Vic Law, who changed the face of Northwestern athletics less than three months later.
Their first meeting, one filled with purpose, shed insight on Collins’ recruiting tactics and left me violently optimistic. I kept making the same joke: Collins’ best selling point was himself. To every prospect, he appears willing to discuss his coaching pedigree, new-look offensive style and ability to help his players realize their professional aspirations.
Collins, in essence, distanced himself from the old regime and re-extended Law’s Northwestern offer. (He received one during the Carmody era.) From that point forward, it seemed like the perfect fit, and Law was partially sold in those early interactions.
“It went very well. He got a chance to really introduce himself and showed me that the tradition is about to change. He laid out a plan to show me how I would affect Northwestern as part of his first real recruiting class.”
— “Law intrigued by new-look Northwestern,” April 18
This pitch especially resonated with Law, who loved the idea of helping to “turn this program.” He mentioned that very element shortly after committing. Law is comfortable with being the featured piece; it required an important and more-than-acceptable bit of ego.
Collins reached Law at the ideal moment. Then in the top-50 of most rankings, Law watched his stock plummet during the spring. This was primarily related to his being absent from many tournaments. He left the Meanstreets AAU program, and some important analysts like Michael O'Brien of the Chicago Sun-Times were skeptical of his lofty ranking. Just recently, Law fell to 70th on the Scout Top 100. Of course, that’s not major reason for concern, but the cooling perception of his game translated to some critics.
Meanwhile, Collins acquitted himself admirably in difficult situations. He added Patrick Baldwin to the assistant staff—another exceptional hire. The two have demonstrated similar passion on the trail, making Baldwin the quiet but perfect fit.
Law, in fact, mentioned the entire staff as a motivating factor for his decision. When Hardy left NU for Georgetown, Collins brought Armon Gates and his extensive connections aboard. As a Loyola assistant, Gates was the first to offer Tyler Ulis.
Gates also led Law’s recruitment in its later stages, which left the small forward with an impression someone so articulately told me was like “synergy” on the staff. They just plain work well together, and form the best reflection of Collins’ readiness and maturity. Last night, Doug must have called his son as one proud father.
As other schools wavered, Law focused on some of the more aggressive programs. He visited NU on June 23rd, and I tried to communicate how real a chance the school had:
“What is important about one visit? What changes in the story? To me the answer is simple: When any prospect explains something specific, I leave with the impression that the trip was meaningful.
After speaking with Vic Law following his visit to Northwestern on Sunday, this was certainly the case. As was true of the first time we spoke with Law, the four-star small forward clearly explained the Chris Collins vision.”
— “Law leaves Northwestern visit satisfied,” June 25th
This was NU’s opportunity to gain its first elite signing. Law also used the word “belief.” He is brave in being the first to show faith. Patrick Baldwin delivered the not very cryptic “Welcome to the new NU!” tweet. It reflects an entirely fresh face that Collins worked so hard to establish upon arriving in Evanston. Gone are the heartbreak and faded memories; this program is only focused on its suddenly promising future.
Law refused to rush his decision, which appeared to me as him leaning towards NU. He visited Dayton and Stanford, schools that took their place alongside VCU as other potential options. Wildcats fans took notice of Law, but it was tough to believe that the team would gain recruiting success within three months.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the staff has also contacted dozens of other prospects during recent weeks. The coaches will now begin the July evaluation period, where they expect to see a shocking number of basketball games. We are oh-so-quick to romanticize the “Chicago ties” and garbage catch phrases, when really, great recruiting can happen anywhere.
Some 2014 prospects are itching to join, and approximately 60 percent of that current list plays outside of Illinois. It took more than the “Oh hey Vic, we’re in Chicago and you’re in Chicago” crap that completely understates the importance of great coaches doing great work.
On Wednesday, Cavan Walsh of ChicagoHoops.com tweeted that Vic Law was nearing his final decision. Walsh called it a “three horse race” between Northwestern, Dayton and VCU. At the time, multiple sources close to the NU program were in the dark: it could have gone either way. But for them, it went the right way.
The afternoon of July 4th marked one of the most important days in Northwestern basketball history. Walsh and Dave Telep of ESPN broke his commitment, and my heart started racing. It was more than the natural reaction to grab my phone and make the call; it was some form of stunned silence and disbelief. I’ll say it again: This was not supposed to happen this quickly.
“I believe in Chris Collins. I’m his first recruit and I really believe in him. I’m ready to go in there and turn it around … I won’t be the only top player going to Northwestern, I can tell you that. I’ll pull some other guys.”
— “4-star SF Vic Law Commits to Northwestern,” July 4th
Northwestern fans came to play on July 4th. The social media response would have made Chris Lauten laugh. The Director of Basketball Operations, to my obvious skepticism, said in a May interview that he just looked towards Ryan Field. He noted that if the football team can generate enthusiasm, then the basketball program could easily accomplish the same. He was correct.
After all of those visits, nothing quite beat Northwestern. Not Dayton or VCU. Not Stanford or Georgia Tech. Law couldn’t shake the belief that he was most wanted here, and that everything could change. He spoke to the hearts and minds of NU fans, mentioning his hopes to end the tournament drought. Vic Law gets it.
He talked about reeling in Tyler Ulis, his former AAU teammate. One well-connected source told PW after his commitment that Law loves the idea of playing with another top NU target, Josh Cunningham. Despite the fact that both play the same position, Law wants to help build an athletic and impressive roster.
When I asked Marcus Bartley if the Law commitment sweetened any NU offer, he said: “Definitely.” Aside from the obvious benefits of adding four-star talent to the 2014 class, Collins will sign someone dedicated to bettering the future.
It was the perfect player at the perfect time. It was the culmination of so many excellent decisions.
This coaching staff, in meetings, does not bring up the past. They are looking to build Northwestern into a champion and a powerhouse. On July 4th, 2013, Vic Law, the player they so badly wanted, gave everyone reason to believe.
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