This season, Northwestern returns five players with starting experience in center Aaron Jennings, forwards Winston Blake and Vedran Vukusic, guard Jitim Young, and guard/forward Jason Burke. Last season, Jason's playing time was limited by a broken hand, as was Vedran's by a reoccurring shoulder injury. Considering guard Drew Long's eventual career-ending back injury last season and Winston Blake's foot injury the previous season, this year's Wildcat squad offers the deepest lineup of able-bodied players of the Carmody era at Northwestern. Of the 13 players on the Northwestern roster, only Patrick Towne was sidelined at Saturday's practice. Patrick participated only in stretching exercises with the team and spent much of the practice on a stationary bicycle.
The Wildcat veterans roared into practice drills with smiles and strong intensity as the newcomers tried to keep up. Leading the way were two of Northwestern's best all-around players--guard Jitim Young, the practice's most vocal player, and Vedran Vukusic, the practice's most remarkable performer. Coming off shoulder surgery during the off-season, Vedran participated in every drill with zest and consistently impressive results, no longer sporting the shoulder brace that he wore for the later half of last season.
While Winston Blake, Jason Burke, and Jitim Young performed well, the most marked improvement was evident in the play of the returning big men. Thomas Soltau, in particular, impressed with his assertiveness, athleticism, and skill both close to the basket and on outside shots. Aaron Jennings, too, impressed with his marksmanship from the outside and showed continued development as a Big Ten center and part of the Carmody offense. While not equal to Aaron or Thomas, Davor Duvancic showed improvement on his outside shooting and displayed surprising altheticism and flair taking the ball to the basket.
The newcomers were led by 6'3" shooting guard Evan Seacat. Evan raised eyebrows during shooting drills, making well over 50% of his three-point attempts. Of the newcomers, he seemed the most like he belonged with the veterans in terms of poise, confidence, skill, and nderstanding of the offensive drills. Evan even traded substitutions with Jason Burke in one drill with the Wildcat first team.
6'7" forward Jimmy Maley also showcased skillful shooting, confidence, and consistency in his all-around play throughout the practice. However, one can not help but wonder if Jimmy's undeniably gaunt frame will limit his effectiveness this season against Big Ten caliber opponents.
The most athletic Wildcat newcomers are guards TJ Parker and Mohamed Hachad. TJ displayed blazing speed beating everyone up and down the court on fast break drills. Mohamed continually exhibited an exceptional ability to elevate on jump shots and drives to the basket. Probably the two most highly touted recruits of the freshman class, TJ and Mohamed were both surprisingly inconsistent in their first practice. It's difficult to project on the first day of practice how long it will take these guards to round out their skills, learn the system, catch up to the veterans, and begin contributing in game situations.
The final Wildcat newcomer is 6'8" Croatian Ivan Tolick. Perhaps in part due to the language barrier, Ivan seemed a couple steps behind the other freshmen. He had some difficulty following the stretching exercises and held up a couple offensive drills not understanding where to pass the ball. Nevertheless, Ivan displayed a strong, consistent mid-range jumper during shooting drills. It seems likely that sophomore big men Thomas Soltau and Davor Duvancic will be much more ready and able to make an impact this season than newcomer Tolick.
In just the first practice of his third season, it is clear that the Bill Carmody system is firmly in place at Northwestern. The Wildcats veterans demonstrated a clear understanding of the Carmody practice work ethic and seemed eager to teach the newcomers.
Carmody's focus on recruiting pure shooters is
also evident as all Wildcat players demonstrate the ability to knock down
open shots. If Northwestern can put the pieces together and use the
Carmody offense to create open shots, this is a Northwestern team that
could turn some heads in the Big Ten this season.
Go Cats - Beat 'em All!
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