Hardy's return "reassuring" for Northwestern

Chris Collins will be keeping associate coach Tavaras Hardy on staff next year. It's a big step for recruiting, but a bigger step for the program culture Jim Phillips craves.

There's an inevitable obsession with wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch when a new head coach is brought in. Coming from a culture of national title banners and Cameron Crazies that sits over 500 miles from Evanston, the arrival of Chris Collins sparked an effort to completely rebrand Northwestern basketball.

Amid press conferences and photo ops, it's tough to be mindful of the fact that there is still something to be proud of from Bill Carmody's tenure. After Jaren Sina was released from his letter of intent and assistant coaches Fred Hill and Ivan Vujic were cut loose, almost everything from the pre-Collins era was washed out.

But with news that Collins will retain associate coach Tavaras Hardy, the Wildcats aren't completely breaking from their past. Hardy's presence is pivotal for recruiting, but it's even more vital to sculpting the new face of Northwestern basketball that Jim Phillips and Co. have been desperate for.

Hardy has manned the sidelines of Welsh-Ryan for the past seven years, acting as Carmody's associate coach over the last two seasons. An ostensible leader during the team's four-year stretch of postseason berths, Hardy's vivacious personality and engagement with the Northwestern community is everything the efforts of the Collins era are looking for.

Keeping Hardy bolsters a sense of family and commitment. A two-time All Big Ten honoree and a three-time team MVP as a forward with the Cats from 1998-2002, Hardy represents a considerable chunk of Northwestern history. He's seen what the Wildcats are all about from both a student-athlete's and coach's angle.

Having staffers that are products of the program is integral to developing continuity and tradition. It's a "bleed purple" mindset that means a whole lot to a school that seemingly lacks the diehard passion of its Big Ten neighbors. Looking at the six-man Duke staff that Collins left last week, four coaches -- Collins, Steve Wojciechowski, Nate James and Jeff Capel -- were former Blue Devil captains. A fifth, director of basketball operations Pat Thompson, was a four-year student manager. It's easier to project family when your program is crammed with staff that have been born and raised in-house.

Hardy's employment is a salute to commitment to Northwestern basketball and a charismatic nod to the Wildcats' past. As NU faces a looming personnel adjustment and a sea of new faces on the sidelines, having Hardy around will be vaguely reassuring.

While Hardy's role in the new staff has yet to be determined, he's undoubtedly going to ameliorate the transition process. Hardy was on hand for Alex Marcotullio's bomb against Ohio State, and can attest to the thundering reaction from the student section. Hardy was here for the days of Kevin Coble and Craig Moore, and of equal importance, he was here last year when just about everything that could have gone wrong did.

Hardy's experience in the Chicago area and his status as a former student-athlete resonates with recruits. But far more importantly, Hardy will be able to welcome and guide those recruits into an immersive environment. While Collins' new staff will likely whip out GPS services to find the Ryan Field complex before the first practice, Hardy knows every inch of the Welsh-Ryan floor.

The return of Hardy comforts Drew Crawford and Jershon Cobb, players who are already tasked with the challenge of coming back after missing an entire season, let alone coming back to a new head coach and a new system on both ends of the floor. His return also comforts Nate Taphorn, the 2014 Illinois product who was heavily recruited by Hardy from the get-go. And not to be overlooked, his return comforts Wildcat fans, who still might not be sold on how Collins will make it work in Evanston.

"I want to create a family atmosphere in this program," Collins said at his introductory press conference last Tuesday. Taking care of family and bringing back one of Northwestern's own is a start.

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