His moment; not his team

CHICAGO— Nick Medline's column from Senior Night at St. Rita's High School.

CHICAGO— Vic Law stands at the northeast corner of the St. Rita's gymnasium. He sways, flanked by one companion on each arm. Every head in the bleachers turns over every right shoulder, and the introduction begins.

This is his moment. His teammates have formed two lines, with a lane between them, and already welcomed the first four seniors to their final home game. The announcer opens his finale: Law has started for four years, been all-league twice, scored 900 points and became the first top-100 recruit in Northwestern basketball history.

The fans give an ovation. He walks past his guys, who love him, and the game starts as it should. Law steps out to hit a triple. He confidently blocks a shot. All five seniors are on the floor, and he directs them. With maturity and poise—everything that's in the scouting report—Vic Law is in his element.

But this is not his team. Approximately three minutes in, junior guard Charles Matthews steps off the bench. He is the team's best player and he knows it. Matthews becomes the story, scoring 33 points between 17 shots and 21 free throw attempts. Two days after committing to Kentucky, he swallows possessions and everyone just watches.

Law, a top-75 player in the nation, attempts less than eight percent of his team's shots. He is visibly frustrated for much of the game. It's difficult to blame him. In the world where star rankings mean more than how players play, we forget that high school basketball is unfair. Law is good, he is a teammate and he is virtually ignored.

It catches up to St. Rita's—by far the more naturally gifted team. Gene Pingatore, of "Hoop Dreams" fame, coaches a brilliant game for St. Joe's, which relies on a young and focused core. Led by highly touted junior guard Glynn Watson, St. Joe's forces the high-volume Matthews to earn it with free throws. He misses eight of his 21.

Watson, Jordan Ash (likely Law's future teammate at NU) and sophomore stud Nick Rakocevic play something best defined as "team basketball." Law might have scored 22 on the other side, but fouls out before the stretch run and St. Rita's loses 67-64.

Law finishes with six points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. (Granted, this is one of the worst games of his season.) During his last home game, the middle-aged men on the sidelines are calling "Charles" and not "Vic." After a short interview, he leaves the gym, disappointed, and prepares for his last high school playoffs.

That said, I leave for the 79 bus with this: For all of the hype, Vic Law will not save Northwestern. The hype is not realistic. It has more to do with mindset than skillset. In no way can Vic Law transition from being the second option on St. Rita's to the first for Northwestern. It will take time, as with any rebuild, and Law is one player of many needed to bring NU to its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

Rob Harrington, our national analyst, puts it perfectly: "He's a blending, complementary player for the high-major level." We're all seeing the same thing. He might never be the Wildcats' best player. I assume Jershon Cobb will be the leading scorer next year—without any real competition.

Chris Collins' biggest test will never be recruiting. It took him four months to prove himself in that department. Instead, he'll need to translate good talent into great players. In so many ways, Vic Law is the test case, the ideal recruit for whom the NU opportunity is perfect.

This is not to deny that Law is the first- or second-most naturally talented recruit in Northwestern history. But to assume he'll unpack in Evanston and dominate in scrimmages is insane. Winning takes the process. It requires player development. In the right scenario, Vic Law becomes great.

When Law committed on July 4, there was an obvious motive. He had the opportunity to one day be "the guy," and not just a role player. To watch him fade into the background, unfairly stranded in St. Rita's frontcourt, was to partially understand why Northwestern made sense for him.

Regardless, Welsh-Ryan Arena should begin to fill next year, with Vic Law the one they're watching. Beginning with the non-conference slate, when he slides into the feature role, postseason hopes will hinge on everything he does. And finally, he'll have his moments.

Law spoke with me, kindly, for a couple of minutes after the game. I have not sifted through the audio, because one quote stuck with me. I hate losing. This is all he has to say when it's over. I hate losing.

Perhaps that's why Vic Law earns his fourth star; why evaluators gush about Collins' first land; why people rave about him as a person. After a quiet spring, he got back up, dominating in summer camps. He was representing Northwestern during July evaluations, and he impressed. When he has the chance, he fights back.

Vic Law might have chosen to join some basketball factory, but, more so than anything, he has something to prove.

He is Northwestern's, and at least now, the losses will be his to bear.


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