After transitioning to Northwestern, Gates made one thing clear: He feels Mercer could fit into the Wildcats' future plans. It takes an entire coaching staff to develop the necessary comfort that results in an offer, but Mercer has turned in consistently strong performances that would quiet any skeptic.
Mercer validated the stretch-four label on Thursday against Compton Magic with several head coaches in attendance. He stared down a difficult 1-2-1-1 full court press, showed some ball-handling ability and made enough shots to frustrate opponents.
"[NU] sees me playing the stretch four to create the mismatch," Mercer said. "I'm able to shoot and post up whenever the time comes."
So he is, and that falls into the ideal mold for NU's future power forward. Mercer scored 18 points in the win over Compton, knocking down jump shots and finishing in transition. He's undoubtedly one of the fastest-rising prospects on NU's board.
It could require a process for NU to offer, though it's certainly within the realm of possibility. Though NU obviously entered his recruitment late in the game, Mercer said it helped that Gates has stuck with him.
"It's been an easy transition with them showing me interest," he said. "I'm familiar with Gates and feel comfortable with him."
It's all about the "fit," though. Collins wants to find a versatile player for this class of 2014, and Mercer is making an impressive case. More importantly, Gates has successfully convinced him that NU is worth consideration.
"He was talking about how … the style of play is going to fit and suit me very well," Mercer said. "And you can't beat their education. He's got a pretty good pitch going."
Mercer listed Northwestern, Belmont, Boston College, Indiana State, Mississippi State, Michigan and Purdue as some of his favorite schools. Belmont head coach Rick Byrd watched him put on an impressive display against Compton, continuing to stand as one of Mercer's most aggressive suitors.
This time of year, good games blur together. Prospects of similar skill levels often become indistinguishable from each other, as the special fits win the day.
It's difficult to tell who will receive an NU offer. Some are close, and others will play themselves closer. Mack Mercer is one of the latter, and NU appears quick to let him know it.