EVANSTON, Ill. — It has been 19 months since JerShon Cobb played a basketball game for Northwestern.
It has been 19 months for Cobb to think and reflect, to refocus in preparation for a rebirth.
As he stepped out of the locker room to speak with the media—a little later than the rest of his teammates because he was returning from a class—donning his new white jersey, the mild-mannered guard from Decatur, Ga. couldn’t keep a smile from creeping across his face. In some ways Cobb has grown, in others he has downsized. In certain areas his past is behind him, in others his past has returned.
His hair is longer, kept out of his face by a thick headband, for example. His body is also different, though in a different way. He’s leaner and more cut than he has been in the past, matching his long, six-foot-five frame after losing about 20 pounds this offseason.
“I was carrying around a lot of weight,” Cobb said. “But now I’m back to not quite as light as I was out of high school, but almost.”
The redshirt junior sat out the 2012-2013 season after being ruled academically ineligible, but that part of his career he has put behind him, choosing to use it positively moving forward. He said that he now looks at the game differently and with a new perspective.
“[Sitting out] was very tough,” Cobb said, “especially with us struggling. I couldn’t do much but practice. It was tough. It was very tough.”
In order to get back in the swing of game action, Cobb and teammate Sanjay Lumpkin, along with assistant coach Patrick Baldwin, toured Europe with a college all-star team. Cobb said the team played in “Belgium, Brussels, London, Germany and a couple more places.”
“We did [create a bond], me, Coach Baldwin and Sanjay. It was great. It was a great experience. It was great to get some game time and rhythm in. It was a great trip. We had some fun.”
Similarly to Cobb, Lumpkin only played in four games last season as a freshman, opting to take a redshirt. Head coach Chris Collins was glad that both players got a chance to play overseas this summer.
“I think the thing you find with having those guys that missed the whole season is they’re incredibly hungry and excited to play because they haven’t played,” Collins said. “But they’re still working off some rust. When you don’t play competitive basketball for a year, you have to get what I call your ‘game legs’ back. You have to get out there and get your timing and be able to play with referees. That’s why, in both Sanjay’s and JerShon’s case, they were able to go on a foreign tour this summer with a college all-star team and get about six or seven games against top competition, which I think really helped those guys.”
Heading into the season, Cobb is finally feeling completely healthy. Injuries, including a torn labrum in his hip, forced him to miss portions of both his freshman and sophomore seasons. In conjunction with the new coaching staff, his health and sitting out last season, this year feels like a fresh start to Cobb.
“I’m very excited. I’m just counting down the days until [Northwestern plays] Lewis. It’s the start of a new beginning,” he said. “I’m just itching to get back on the court and start this season, this new beginning off.”
Right away, Cobb will be thrust into a key role for Northwestern. On the court, Collins expects Cobb to play not just one major role, but potentially a myriad of them.
“I think JerShon can do a little bit of everything,” Collins said. “He’s got great basketball instincts. He’s got really good size for a guard. I think there’s going to be times where he plays as a wing, there are going to be times when he brings the ball up the floor. He’s one of our best ball handlers. Certainly we’re going to rely on him. He may be our best natural scorer. He may end up being our leading scorer at the end of the day. He’s going to be asked to do what key players do and that’s everything. He’s going to have to be a great defender for us. He’s going to have to be a leader. He’s going to have to help initiate our offense. He’s going to have to score.”
Cobb is relishing those roles, at least so far in the preseason. He repeatedly said that he wants to do whatever is best for the team and if that means that one night he will be asked to shutdown Michigan State’s talented guard Gary Harris and the next—if not the same night—score 20 points, the new JerShon Cobb will willingly embrace the challenge, purely motivated to make his return to the court in just 23 days.
“Sometimes,” Collins said about Cobb, “whether it’s because of an injury or personal things, where you get basketball or you get something you love taken away from you, you find out how much you really love it and how much it means to you.”