Rejuvenated Wildcats moving forward

After another NCAA tournament miss, Northwestern is rejuvenated and hungry for a new chance this season. With a vastly different look and new attitude, the Wildcats hope for a successful campaign.

Bill Carmody's tone was quiet as he met with the media on Selection Sunday. His voice sounded of sorrow and defeat.

It was on this day in which the Wildcats' roller coaster season came to an end; they had run out of second chances. Northwestern's best bid to reach the NCAA tournament had ended in disappointment once again.

Still, there is no quit in Carmody and his Wildcats, and that was never more evident than during the offseason.

Carmody and his assistants hit the recruiting trails, working to make the team stronger for the future. Back in Evanston, the returning Wildcats were focused on moving on to next season.

"We're going to learn from it but we're not going to dwell on it too much," said senior forward Drew Crawford, who features a team-leading 100 career starts. "We're moving on and looking forward to what we have for the future."

Wildcat fans will need a program handy this season. Northwestern's roster features five newcomers and seven players making their NU debut.

The most notable offseason addition is Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire, a fifth-year senior who transferred to Northwestern after a Final Four run with the Cardinals.

Swopshire will be counted on to fill the large shoes of Northwestern's all-time leading scorer, John Shurna. However, he is a different type of player at the power forward position.

"He's a pretty good all-around player," head coach Bill Carmody said of Swopshire. "He can dribble the ball, he can pass the ball, he competes. He wants to be good. I think in playing for a coach at Louisville, Pitino, he's well schooled. He has played at the highest level -- he was a Final Four guy last year. He brings a maturity to us."

Bill Carmody's team features tremendous depth and experience at each position

Northwestern's new Wildcats have benefited from a new NCAA rule which allows teams to practice two hours per week during the offseason. With the entire team on campus, the Wildcat have worked hard on the court and in the weight room, then build chemistry off the court.

"Everybody is bonding great, we're having fun," said Jared Swopshire. "We're out there competing every day, in the gym, in the weight room. We're out there having fun."

Swopshire and Northwestern's newcomers have prospered from summer practices. It has allowed the opportunity to grow as a team, but also learn Carmody's complex Princeton offense.

In the past, NU's freshmen have been forced to grow acclimated to the program during the month of September. Carmody has taken advantage of his time with the new-look team.

"It's really just teaching, learning the system a little bit," Carmody said of the summer practices. "When September comes around, they can just play."

Last season, Carmody was forced to play the 6-foot-9 shooter Shurna at the center position to make up for the team's lack of an inside presence. Senior Luka Mirkovic struggled throughout the season, then also battled injuries. Davide Curletti proved unable to battle with the Big Ten's best big men.

Northwestern's small lineup was efficient at times, though not what Carmody would have preferred; his team needed a true center.

During the spring, Carmody signed freshmen centers Alex Olah and Chier Ajou. In addition, Swopshire joined the team and TCU transfer Nikola Cerina became eligible after sitting out a season.

"We can go big, we can go small; we have a lot of options," said Crawford. "That's nice to have."

With new faces has come a new attitude for Northwestern, a team that is rejuvenated, not looking back on the past.

"It's a lot of fun," Crawford said. "We've got a lot of new guys, talented guys, guys that are willing to work hard. They're fun to get on the court with and work hard together. We have a lot to look forward to this year."

But while the relationships off the court are strong, the Wildcats aren't holding anything back in practice.

Northwestern may have its deepest roster yet with competition present for each position. Seven players on NU's roster have seen starts during their playing careers. The battle for playing time has been intense, thus far.

"It's just a lot of fun competing," said Tre Demps, who played in four game as a freshman before season-ending should surgery. "This is a game we've all played for 12-plus years. It's a lot of fun, that's all I can really say. Guys are competing and playing hard. We're getting better everyday."

Prior to each season, Northwestern fans ask themselves, 'will this be the year?'

With ample time to prepare, a vastly different look and refreshed attitude, there are many reasons to be excited for Northwestern basketball.

"I think we can do some great things," said Swopshire. "Some really great things."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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