There's a reason the best programs in the country compete for national titles every year, and a reason the Northwestern Wildcats are still (still!) looking for their first NCAA tournament berth of all-time: recruiting.
The North Carolina's and Kentucky’s and Duke’s of the world land the elite recruits most every season. The mediocre programs often recruit the guys bigger programs would recruit if something else fell through.
Northwestern hasn't even had that luxury. Thanks to its academic rigor and a dash of self-imposed failures, the program has traditionally found itself confined to “Moneyball”-style market inefficiencies -- an undersized but effective point guard (Juice Thompson) here, a forward with a funky but deadly shooting motion (John Schurna) here. Northwestern coach Bill Carmody has gotten awfully close to cracking that NCAA tournament barrier with these kinds of players in his tricky Princeton system, and it’s hard not to admire the program’s pluck. But at some point, over the course of a 30-game season, you have to have to talent. It’s the incontrovertible law of the sport.
Which is why long-suffering Northwestern fans should be so excited about Monday night’s news out of Lake Hopatcong, N.J. ESPN Chicago’s Scott Powers has the story:
ESPNU 100 point guard Jaren Sina committed to Northwestern on Monday.
Sina, who is 6-foot–2, 175-pounds, is from Lake Hopatcong, N.J. and attends Gill St. Bernard’s School. He chose Northwestern over Alabama, which he had previously committed to.
Sina is ranked No. 75 overall in the Class of 2013 and No. 13 at point guard by ESPN Recruiting. He is Northwestern’s most highly-rated recruit since ESPN began its rankings in 2007.
Yes, you read that correctly: In the five years since ESPN has been tracking and ranking collegiate hoops prospects, Sina, the No. 72-ranked player in the class of 2013, is the highest-ranked recruit Northwestern has landed.
Does that mean Sina will be a program-changing player? Not so fast. As we discussed about a month ago, we as fans (and writers) tend to overrate top–100 prospects, because the shorthand is easy to use and the expectations easy to slip into. As Basketball Prospectus’s Drew Cannon revealead in his postseason rankings of last year’s top 100 players, many players ranked near the bottom of the list take a year or even two to make major impacts on the college level. Not everyone is one-and-done, that’s for sure, and few -- 30 or 40 players a year, give or take -- are ready to make the transition right away.
That said, there are some good signs that Northwestern will be able to integrate Sina right away. His father Mergin Sina (I don’t know, but I love that name) is the head coach at Gill St. Bernard’s, the high school where Sina plies his trade. And Northwestern’s style -- cut-heavy Princeton offense, stretchy 1–3–1 zone defense -- is similar to what Mergin Sina’s teams already play:
“There was obviously location; it’s a great place,” said Sina’s father Mergin, who coaches Gill St. Bernard’s. “Academically, it’s one of the top programs, and the kids can play at a high level. Coach (Bill) Carmody and (assistant Fred) Hill and staff, we’ve been attracted to the way they played all year. It’s a similar style we play in high school. I think it’s a great transition for Jaren.”
So … how did a program that so rarely lands notable recruits land the No. 13-ranked point guard in the class of 2013? The presence of former Rutgers coach Fred Hill, who began recruiting Sina three years ago, when he was still the head coach at Rutgers. Hill was the first to offer Sina a scholarship during Sina’s freshman year, and the connection carried over to Hill’s new job as an assistant under Carmody:
“Coach Hill is a great guy,” Mergin said. “Northwestern is very lucky to have coach Hill. The tie was there with Coach Hill. Once we knew he was at Northwestern, we knew he would follow Jaren and do a great job of recruiting him.”
Anyway, big, big news for the Wildcats. It should be tempered with realistic expectations; this doesn’t mean Northwestern is suddenly going to dominate the Big Ten, nor does it mean it will suddenly start recruiting like Ohio State. But it does mean Northwestern landed one of, if not the, most talented players in the recent history of the program, a 6-foot–2 point guard who pretty much everyone agrees can really play.
With all due respect to the solid players that have come through Welsh-Ryan Arena in recent years, there is no misfit aspect here, no Scott Hatteberg-playing-first-base quality to the commitment. Sina’s just … good. Like any other program, those are the kinds of players Northwestern needs to win – good ones.
It really is just that simple.