Unless Northwestern pulls off a miracle run in the Big Ten tournament this week, the Wildcats likely will be shut out from the NCAA tournament again.
If that happens, Northwestern will fail to meet its season’s objective. The Wildcats were confident they would finally crash the tournament for the first time.
There are plenty of “what ifs” to play with this year’s Northwestern team: What if John Shurna didn’t roll his ankle before the Big Ten season? What if Northwestern hit one more shot and upset No. 1 Ohio State? But the biggest is, “What if Kevin Coble had played this season?”
Coble, a 6-foot-8 forward, was the Wildcats’ leading scorer and rebounder his first three years before fracturing his left foot before the start of last season. Would he have been enough to put the Wildcats finally over the top?
It’s something he even ponders now.
“I can’t make the determination that I would have been the difference,” Coble said. “I think it would have put us in a very good position to make a run at it.
“That was one of the main things I set out to do when I went to Northwestern. I wanted to be a part of that team that got to the NCAA tournament for the first time. I think we were doing the right things. It’s something I’ll always think about it. Eventually, it will happen at some point.”
Since parting with the team in July over differences in his rehab, Coble has graduated from Northwestern, moved back home to Arizona and is helping out with his old club team in his hopes of pursuing a coaching career.
Coble has watched a few Northwestern games this season and still feels a connection with his old teammates and he plans on rooting for his former team in the Big Ten tournament this week.
“I watched the Ohio State game when they were pretty close,” Coble said. “It was certainly tough to see where I think I could have helped this year, especially with Johnny [Shurna] getting hurt. I feel bad for him. He really needed to be 100 percent.
“It’s still pretty tough. I still feel attached. In some aspects, it was my team. I was playing for three seasons and was up there for four.”
Coble has tried to explain to his teammates why he left the team, and he hopes they understand. He wished them all the best.
As for Carmody, Coble continued to refute that it was his own decision to leave the team. Coble said he was given an ultimatum of either traveling with the team to Italy during the summer or not playing at all. Coble said he wanted to stay back in Evanston to rehab and remain under the eye of his own specialist, and that wasn’t an option.
Carmody said in July: “Kevin came into my office yesterday and said he had decided he wasn't going to play this year, and he wanted to finish his schooling and get his degree from Northwestern. Basically, that's what it is. That's what he wants to do. I respect that. He's a grown man.”
Coble believed Carmody’s intentions were to make him the villain in the situation.
“It was a little bit of misdirection of how they presented info to the media and what coach said,” Coble said. “The main thing coach said was I came into the office and quit. That wasn’t the case at all.
“He’s certainly a very good basketball coach. No one’s going to dispute that. As a coach, I have respect for him for that. As a person, I feel like he let me down and Northwestern down. I don’t have any ill will or resentment toward him.”
Coble also wanted to clarify reports he had seen about him going to Hawaii instead of traveling with the team to Italy.
“That’s one of the things that bothered me,” Coble said. “It wasn’t even the same week. I offered to cancel it, but [Carmody] wouldn’t compromise. There was no choice.”
Carmody declined comment Wednesday through a school spokesperson.
Coble is moving on with his life. Outside of the occasional pick-up game, Coble’s playing days are over. He has turned his attention to coaching. His ultimate goal is to become a college coach himself.
“I put a lot of time in basketball, investing a lot of my life and energy in playing basketball,” Coble said. “I feel like I have a unique skill set and understanding of the game that I can pass to younger kids and high school guys.
“What I enjoy about coaching is I guess a lot of time is the same experience from when I was in school, learning something new, seeing the effect of it. I get the same emotion when you show a kid something and teams something, and they get it, a new skill set or understanding for the game. The clicking or lighting up in their eyes. It’s a pretty special thing to pass on to a person.”