Early in the second half on Wednesday night in Chicago, I looked at the box score and realized that Sanjay Lumpkin was probably headed for another double-digit rebound night. This realization wasn’t entirely surprising, as the eye test had already suggested to me that Lumpkin is Northwestern’s best rebounder. He’s relentless attacking the glass, but also smart enough to box out his man so that he doesn’t concede offensive rebounds.
He’s also incredibly smart at using his body, specifically his rear end, to create space for himself to get the ball. Since the season opener against Eastern Illinois, Lumpkin has had 7, 11 and 10 boards in the last three games. Lumpkin’s tenacity is something that Northwestern desperately needs, and is the kind of trait that could earn him minutes at almost any program in the country.
Clichés become common for a reason, and Lumpkin is the cliché player who does things that don’t necessarily show up in the box score. There was one sequence last night where Sanjay was not only attacking the defensive glass, but was also the first Wildcat up the court on three straight fast breaks (two of which were the and-ones that Dave Sobolewski used to put an exclamation point on his breakout night). He was simply attacking the boards and running harder than anyone on either team.
There is also no player on the team with a better grasp of off-ball defense than Lumpkin; he is consistently in the right position and fantastic at helping and recovering. If Lumpkin were unable to score a single point, he would still be valuable enough to earn significant minutes for this Wildcats team.
At this point, it is largely useless to discuss anything that happened during the Carmody era, but Carmody does deserve some credit for Sanjay Lumpkin. Carmody was his lead recruiter, and put on a serious full-court press to get him and succeeded. There is some irony in that, as Lumpkin is exactly the kind of player that was missing from this team the last few years. He can guard multiple positions, he works his tail off on both ends of the floor, and he plays bigger than he is. Drew Crawford is obviously this team’s best and most important player, but right now is Lumpkin is number two.
It is fair to note that Sanjay is limited offensively. We don’t know if his 3-3 performance from long range against Eastern Illinois is more indicative of his shooting ability than his 0-2 line since, but we do know that he is a willing passer and screener who does not dominate the ball. He’s only taken 13 shots in 4 games, but he has hit 9 of them. As the redshirt freshman continues to get comfortable playing at this level, I think we'll see him attack the basket more often. He is also a very smart player, who will get better at reading defenses and cutting in behind for easy buckets. His 4 assists last night are further cause for optimism, and if he can be in the 3-5 assist per game range he would take a huge load off of the other perimeter players’ shoulders.
It’s only been four games, against competition that is nothing like what Northwestern will see in the Big Ten, but what I have seen indicates to me that Sanjay Lumpkin is going to be a hugely important player in this program. Every basketball team needs a guy who does the things that Sanjay Lumpkin does. In fact, Lumpkin is the only guy on this team besides Drew Crawford who looks like he has the potential to be All-Big Ten someday. Sanjay Lumpkin is already a player that Northwestern fans can be proud to watch, but if he improves his offensive game moving forward, then the rest of the conference, and eventually the country, will have to take notice too.