Michael “Juice” Thompson will be roughly 4,500 miles away from the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. But come Friday if Northwestern has clinched its first NCAA tournament berth after a couple of Big Ten tournament victories, Thompson will be celebrating as if he was still on floor for the Wildcats.
“I still feel a part of it,” the former Northwestern star said by phone from Germany where he plays for the Fraport Skyliners. “I definitely spent a lot of time and dedication to that program. It’s given me a lot. I’ve always said if didn’t make, I wanted the players I played with to make it. It would mean a lot to me.”
Thompson is still too connected to Northwestern right now to feel any different. Just a year ago, he was leaving his legacy on the program. He’ll be among Northwestern’s career leaders in nearly every statistical category for years to come, and the Wildcats’ run to three consecutive NITs with him as starting point guard was a major step for the program.
Thompson also knows Northwestern’s current team inside and out. He’s been teammates with all the current Wildcats’ players except the freshmen, and he spent a bulk of the summer guiding freshman David Sobolewski to replace him as the starting point guard.
Thompson still keeps in touch with most of the players and planned to send them a message before Thursday’s game against Minnesota.
“I want to tell them, ‘Let me be nervous,’ ” Thompson said. “I’ll be nervous, and they can go out and play their game. I just want them to keep that momentum we’ve had the last couple of years there. The couple of years we’ve won that first Big Ten tournament game. Keep that in the back of their minds and now continue to take it one game at a time.”
While Northwestern’s players have tried to play it cool with questions about the NCAA tournament, Thompson knows exactly what’s going on in their minds. They were the same things he was thinking last season.
“It’s tough to block something like that out,” Thompson said. “It’s always something on your mind. All the history that goes into it. It’s one of the reasons we came to Northwestern -- to be a part of history and make it to the NCAA tournament and continue to push the program forward.”
Thompson has made peace with not reaching the NCAA tournament during his time at Northwestern.
“I thought about that for a while, not making the tournament,” Thompson said. “After four years, you got to continue to move on. Luckily, I was able to continue playing out here in Germany.”
On Thursday, Thompson plans to watch Northwestern’s game on his computer from his apartment in Germany clad in Northwestern gear. And he knows how he will be feeling.
“When things aren’t going well, I’m nervous; I’m pacing around,” Thompson said. “When things are going well, I’m jumping up and down and hollering. I tell everyone all the time, when I’m watching the game I feel so close to it that my heart is beating. It’s like I’m in the game.”