Building A Winning Culture

With the 2010-11 season in the books, this group of Wildcats will be remembered as the team that forever changed Northwestern basketball.

More than four years ago, Bill Carmody took a chance that would change the course of Northwestern basketball history. That chance was an undersized point guard from Chicago's north side.

That point guard stood 5'10, and 165-pounds while soaking wet. But for what he lacked in size, he made up for in toughness. His real name is Michael, but he goes by the nickname Juice.

In his recruitment, Juice Thompson's only offers came from Bradley, Dayton, and Middle Tennessee State. The rest of the big schools didn't give him a good chance, but Bill Carmody gave Thompson a shot, and what a ride it was.

During his first year with the Wildcats, Thompson, along with fellow incoming freshman Mike Capocci, were a part of a struggling team that won just eight games on the season, one win in conference play.

But Northwestern had another talented recruiting class waiting for their chance.

Prior to the 2007 season, Northwestern took another chance on a tall, scrawny, kid from the western suburbs, who just happened to be a lights-out shooter. He is John Shurna, another talented prospect who didn't receive much attention coming out of high school. Shurna's only offers came from Army, Davidson, Loyola, and Washington State.

Like Thompson, Shurna made an immediate impact for the Wildcats, joining fellow freshman Kyle Rowley in a starting lineup filled out by Thompson, Kevin Coble, and Craig Moore. Together, that team won 17 games for the first time in 26 years.

After another year of great success, and adding a few key new additions, that group continued to raise the bar.

Bill Carmody added one more key piece to the puzzle, a highly-talented forward from Naperville named Drew Crawford. Much like Juice Thompson and John Shurna, Crawford also made an immediate impact. As a freshman, Crawford averaged 10 points per game while starting all 34 games, and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

With Crawford in the lineup, Thompson and Shurna improved. Shurna averaged 18.2 points per game, while being named second-team All-Big Ten, and Thompson was named consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten.

But no stats or award could define what that trio was a part of during the 2009-10 season.

The Wildcats would bring the program to new heights. It started with a 14-point win against 23rd-ranked Notre Dame in November. A month later, Northwestern found their way to the Top-25 for the first time since 1969. That success continued a month later with a win over sixth-ranked Purdue. The season was becoming something special.

Though they would fall shy of the program's first NCAA Tournament berth, history was made. The Wildcats finished with 20 wins, the most wins ever by a Wildcat team in a single season. The team would also reach the NIT for the second-consecutive season, the first time that had ever been accomplished.

But that group—especially the senior Juice Thompson—was hungry for more. They wanted to bring the program even farther.

Mission accomplished.

The Wildcats won 20 wins again—the first time in program history that Northwestern has won 20 games for two-straight seasons. The Wildcats again raised the bar, winning two games in the NIT and reaching the quarterfinals—something never accomplished in the program's history.

In his final season in Evanston, Juice Thompson continued to push the program to new heights. Thompson took on a major role as team leader, and his leadership showed both on and off the court. Thompson averaged 16.3 points per game as a senior, and hit 39.3% from beyond the arc. More importantly, the Wildcats took on the attitude of their leader.

Northwestern became a tough team to play, and that was never more evident that this season. The Wildcats had some key wins, but their toughness showed even in their losses. Take for example the Wildcats' first game against Jared Sullinger and the top-ranked Ohio State. When it appeared the Buckeyes were in full control and en-route to another big win, Juice Thompson carried his team back with a spree of three-pointers.

You can also look at Northwestern's second matchup with the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament, where the ‘Cats took Ohio State to overtime.

It was fitting enough that in their last game of the season, the Wildcats went down with a fight, falling in overtime to Washington State.

The program has reached unprecedented success, and the future is bright.

That was not the case just four years ago, before Juice Thompson first donned purple and white. Now, the culture of Northwestern basketball has changed forever, and the team has a new demeanor.

Juice Thompson leaves behind a great legacy. The Wildcats are a no longer the doormat of the Big Ten—they're a winner.

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