In three years of high school ball at Benet Academy (Ill.), Sobolewski emerged as the starting point guard and team captain. Then before his senior season, head coach Martin Gaughan was replaced by Gene Heidkamp. New name, new system implemented on both ends of the floor. Heidkamp looked to Sobolewski to lead his upstart team; Benet went 29-1 and advanced to Illinois Class 4A sectional semifinals.
The stakes are different in 2013, but the situation plays out similarly. In his incipient stages of rebuilding Northwestern basketball, Chris Collins has turned to Sobolewski and Drew Crawford to be the faces of the team. A reclamation project that will require patience above all else couldn't have picked two better leaders: Crawford, the All-Big Ten forward coming off season-ending shoulder surgery; Sobolewski the touted point guard prospect who stumbled through his sophomore season after assuming a need to shoot more in Northwestern's stagnant offense. The latter certainly isn't shying away.
"Coach Collins has really gotten us to buy into his vision," Sobolewski said at Big Ten Media Day last week. "We can't wait to get going, we've been beating each other up in practice."
He won't be a stranger to internal competition. The clear-cut point guard under Bill Carmody, Sobolewski has yet to prove he deserves an increased role in Collins' motion offense and four-around-one defense. He looked overmatched in on-ball D last season, and shot just 38 percent from the field while averaging about half a turnover more than in efficient freshman year. Before Bryant McIntosh arrives next fall, Sobolewski has a chance to vindicate his appearance on promotional posters and turn the clock back to 2011-12.
Improvements will be made as Sobolewski transitions back to a traditional set-up man. With Crawford back and in line for double-digits shots per night, the junior point guard will have less pressure to create offense and more of an expectation to assist it. Sobolewski said that he wants to work on catch-and-shoots on wing kickouts, and added that he's emphasized defensive adjustments all offseason. But on a team that will likely lack a definitive identity for a while, Sobolewski believes his versatility will be a huge factor.
"I've always prided myself on my ability to do everything," he said.
Sobolewski's statement season may draw more inspiration from Chris Collins than expected. He notes that his game resembles Collins the basketball player, who was a hustling, pass-first point guard at Duke.
"To be brutally honest, I didn't know much about Coach Collins from a personal standpoint," Sobolewski said. "To have that connection with him is great."
Though attention will fall on Crawford's return, Alex Olah's progression and the beginning of Sanjay Lumpkin and Nate Taphorn's careers, Sobolewski's transition will go a long way in determining the Wildcats' immediate success. Northwestern plays established programs Stanford, Missouri and UCLA in November alone, and the team will need its point guard to facilitate.
"We're looking forward to having some freedom with the ball," Sobolewski said.
It's up to him to get that ball to everyone else.