by Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn)
There are few people better plugged in to the Chicago sports scene at the pro, college and prep levels than ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers, who caught up with Inside Northwestern this week to discuss Northwestern basketball and recruiting.
Q: In what ways do you feel Northwestern’s academic standards affect recruiting?
Powers: It certainly changes the playing field. While all schools have some sort of academic standards, Northwestern’s are much higher than most, and it simply can’t get in the same recruits that even most Big Ten schools can. They’re drawing from a much smaller talent pool, and that plays a major factor. Say there are 300 high school seniors capable of playing high-major basketball. Of those 300 players, let’s say a third of them are able to get into Northwestern. So, while in-state rival Illinois is evaluating and recruiting from that 300 player pool, Northwestern is doing the same from 100 players. It makes a difference.
Q: How do you feel the talent quality of recruits has changed since Bill Carmody’s hiring in 2000?
Powers: Northwestern’s talent has undoubtedly improved. Michael Thompson, John Shurna and Drew Crawford will all go down as three of the program’s elite players of all-time. They’ve set a new bar for the individual play Northwestern has come to expect, but also the team play. That group has taken Northwestern to another winning level.
Q: Do you envision Northwestern ever being the type of program that regularly brings in four and five-star talent every year?
Powers: I think Northwestern has to prove itself as a NCAA tournament before that happens consistently. Recruits, especially the elite ones, want to play in the NCAA tournament. As much as Northwestern has made strides, it still has never been to the NCAA tournament.
Q: In the past, Northwestern was often viewed as a consolation prize for recruits spurned by more decorated programs. Do you think NU is on its way towards becoming one of those “destination” programs in the Big Ten?
Powers: I think that’s a stretch. Northwestern can move up where it stands in the Big Ten, but there’s probably a ceiling for the program because of who it can recruit and the history of the other Big Ten programs. Northwestern may be able to occasionally get an elite player who choose the Wildcats over another program, but it’s more often going to lose a kid to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin.
Q: Why do people often say that it is so difficult to “recruit Chicago”?
Powers: I think what makes Chicago difficult is it’s a national recruiting ground. You’re not only recruiting against the local schools for a Chicago recruit, but you’re often recruiting against schools throughout the country. There’s a lot of talent in Chicago, and coaches throughout the nation come to check it out. AAU basketball also makes it a wider scope.
Q: The budding rivalry between Illinois and Northwestern has become more heated in recent years on the field and the hardwood, and the two schools seem to be competing on the recruiting trail as well. Overall, who has the edge in recruiting right now? Will Northwestern ever be able to out-recruit Illinois for in-state talent?
Powers: They’ve certainly competed on the court in recent years, but I don’t think they’re competing on the recruiting trail at all. I can’t recall a player who chose Northwestern over Illinois. For one, Northwestern often goes after different players. And if it does occasionally recruit a player Illinois is after, the Illini usually win out. Shurna, Crawford, etc. definitely could have played at Illinois, but they flew under the radar in high school and weren’t recruited by Illinois.
Q: Is Jaren Sina the type of player who can attract better talent to Northwestern in the future? How does he fit in Carmody’s Princeton offense?
Powers: No matter how good Jaren Sina turns out to be, his commitment is already paying dividends for Northwestern. People care about rankings, and it’s already brought positive publicity to Northwestern because he’s a top 100 recruit. People take notice of that. I’m sure recruits do, too. As for him as a player, I can only go by video highlights and what people tell me. It sounds like he’s a talented guard who can pass it and shoot it. Those skills work in Carmody’s offense.