On July 4, while you were grilling meats and hanging out with family and friends and doing other awesome things we Americans do on the Fourth of July, something profoundly strange happened: Northwestern landed a top-75 recruit.
No, seriously: Northwestern landed a top-75 recruit.
His name is Vic Law, he's the No. 66-ranked player in the class of 2014, per the ESPN 100. Law hails from South Holland, Ill., and he's a 6-foot-6 athlete with versatile skills -- he can rebound, handle, start the break, finish in traffic, knock down open jumpers, and defend multiple positions, according to our Recruiting Nation scouting report. And the news of his signing, almost surely thanks to the timing, passed us all by, at least until Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn examined the Law signing, and what it means for Northwestern, in a Wednesday column:
One four-star commitment can't change a program, and there are higher-impact players than Law in the class of 2014, but in terms of need and momentum, his pledge will go down as one of the biggest of the summer. Collins was used to pulling in elite players as a Duke assistant, but Northwestern? Zero-NCAA-bids-ever Northwestern? Its last top-75 recruit was center Evan Eschmeyer -- in 1993. Three months into Collins' tenure at NU, he ended that 20-year drought by selling the promise of a turnaround. "He just needed one person to believe in him," Law said. "And I believe. I know we're going to win."
It's difficult to overstate just how important Law's signing is to Northwestern. For more than a decade under Bill Carmody, the Wildcats never recruited a player as talented as Law. Under Carmody, Northwestern's rosters were always assemblages of misfit toys -- talented but tiny guards, lights-out shooters who couldn't slide their feet and forward "projects." When Wildcats fans asked why their teams always looked like the baby day-care room in "Toy Story 3," they were given, whether directly or indirectly, a maxim to repeat: Because it's Northwestern. Of course NU couldn't recruit. Of course the facilities weren't attractive. Of course the academic standards were too limiting. Of course recruiting meant plucking leftovers and unknowns. The roster would always look like a market inefficiency experiment taken too far, because ... well, because it was Northwestern.
Now, just a couple months into the job, new coach Chris Collins has made that maxim obsolete. How? Law provides a handy case-study, as Luke writes:
Law Sr. can explain [why his son didn't like Northwestern before Collins was hired]; he recently retired from the Chicago Police Department after 27 years, part of that time spent as a homicide detective on the city's troubled South Side, and is not one to mince words. "When we went up there to visit [sophomore year]," Law Sr. said, "Carmody came across as arrogant -- like that the university would sell itself, and either you want to come here or you don't. And I'm saying to myself, 'You haven't won anything!' You had a sour taste in your mouth when you left, and to be honest with you, had Carmody still been there, we never would have considered Northwestern. Not ever. That's how bad it was for us."
Now, that's probably not the sole reason Carmody struggled to recruit, or even the most important one. Nor is Collins going to suddenly turn into John Calipari 2.0. But for the biggest signing in the past two decades of Northwestern basketball, the difference really was that simple. Attitude. Salesmanship. Belief. You know, oh, what's the word? Oh, right: recruiting.
You know that scene in "Pleasantville" when Joan Allen sees the stained glass in vivid color for the first time? Remember the look on her face? That's your average Northwestern fan right now. Law may or may not revolutionize Evanston, Ill., in the next five years, and Collins will surely face his share of struggles. But the new coach has, in remarkably short order, sent a clear signal to beleaguered fans: Their program doesn't have to be bad. What a concept.