Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Wildcats new coach strives to improve, build program

December 5, 2000
Sophomore forward Al Anagonye goes for a layup over Northwestern guard Jason Burke (30), former guard Steve LePore (14) and guard Ben Johnson (bottom left) during the second half of their game last year at the Breslin Student Events Center. The Spartans won 69-45. —

When people think of Northwestern athletics, Bill Carmody knows basketball will not come to anyone’s mind as the Wildcats’ have had a long-standing tradition as Big Ten doormats.

As the program’s new head coach, Carmody said the primary reason Northwestern hasn’t produced victories in past years points to the lack of talent.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t win here - it’s a terrific school, a great basketball conference and a great area,” he said. “Why can’t we win? I think it goes back to the fact that there’s no tradition so no one naturally gravitates towards Northwestern.”

The previous coach, Kevin O’Neill, resigned Sept. 1 to become an assistant for the New York Knicks.

Building a program similar to that of Duke or Indiana was a challenge that attracted the former Princeton coach to Evanston, Ill. Carmody was named the Wildcats’ head coach on Sept. 6.

“There’s a tradition of basketball there (at Princeton) and that’s what we’re trying to establish here,” he said.

In four seasons, Carmody guided the Tigers to a 92-25 mark, going 50-6 in the Ivy League while making two NCAA tournament appearances.

He takes over a Northwestern team that features five sophomores, six freshmen and was 0-16 in the Big Ten and 5-25 overall last year.

For coaching at a school that does not give out athletic scholarships, Carmody rose to prominence at Princeton because of his offensive schemes. With an attack featuring backdoor cuts that led to easy baskets, his squads dominated the Ivy League and repeatedly found success against ranked non-conference opponents.

The Tigers were 32-16 under Carmody against schools with scholarship players.

However, Carmody stressed that Northwestern will not resemble his Princeton teams that much since his players’ athleticism dictates his offense.

“Generally speaking, I’d like to have the ball move and have the players move - not a lot of standing around,” he said. “If you’re open, shoot the ball. If you’re not open, move somewhere where you can shoot the ball or you can help another guy shoot the ball.

“It’s real basic stuff. It’s not a complicated thing but it’s something a lot of players aren’t used to.”

Sophomore guard Ben Johnson, who led the team in scoring last season with 11.6 points per game, said he expects Carmody to implement backdoor cuts into the Wildcat offense.

“You’re always going to see the Princeton fundamentals and flavor with him but at the same time, we’re going to add a new style because we have different players that can do different things that he was never able to do before,” he said. “He proved that it’s worked against decent teams in the NCAA tournament.”

Despite having a bright offensive mind on the bench, Johnson said Northwestern’s success still falls on the players to score.

“He’s giving us an offense that will give us open looks,” he said. “It’s on us to knock down shots and play well.”

Johnson was one of six players on the team that played heavy minutes for being freshmen and sophomores last season. He said the experience has made them seasoned veterans despite being so young.

“We just bring the mindset that we’ve been through everything and we’ve dealt with pressure so we’ll be ready to go,” he said.

Forwards Tavaras Hardy and Winston Blake, center Aaron Jennings and guards Jason Burke, Collier Drayton and Johnson are six of only seven players returning from last season. They will form the core of the team.

“All those guys played a lot of minutes last year; more than they should’ve,” Carmody said. “They probably should’ve played 18 minutes - they played 30 minutes a piece. It hurt them last year but now it’s going to help us this year because they’ve been through it.”

Hardy, one of two juniors on a team with no seniors, said he’s excited about playing for Carmody.

“I like him a lot,” he said. “He’s different from any coach that I’ve had as far as his stress on offense and his style of play. He’s definitely a good coach. He’s going to help us win some games.”

“Last year was a pretty disappointing year. We don’t expect that to happen again.”

Northwestern is currently 3-2 and begins Big Ten play Jan. 3 at Ohio State.

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