When he was a freshman at Northwestern, James Montgomery III practiced with the women’s basketball team. He walked on to the men’s team in 2011-12 and played a total of 30 minutes over 11 games. Last season, as the Wildcats weathered a string of devastating injuries, Montgomery’s playing time more than tripled: he appeared in 23 games and logged 94 minutes.
There’s reason to believe Montgomery could earn even more playing time this season. First-year coach Chris Collins raved about Montgomery’s energy and defense in the video below (which, in case you haven’t seen it, captures an emotional scene wherein Montgomery learns he has been put on scholarship. It went viral).
Montgomery has played in seven of Northwestern’s 10 games to date and started for the first time in his college career last week against Western Michigan. Montgomery played just nine minutes and finished with two rebounds and a steal, but according to Collins, the senior could well start the Wildcats’ next game against Mississippi Valley State.
"What James did, it's hard to deny the impact he made," Collins told Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune on Monday. "I wanted him to guard the point guard and bring energy and give us a lift. He did a great job. It would be hard not to go with him again."
Regardless of how many minutes Montgomery plays in future games, the fact he’s starting games for a Big Ten basketball team, just a few years removed from being a practice player on the women’s team, is astonishing. Who knows how long Montgomery’s run on Northwestern’s starting unit will last; that’s beside the point. Montgomery has clearly proven he deserves meaningful playing time on a roster with plenty of depth at his position. Collins probably wouldn’t have started him if that wasn’t the case
Until Montgomery’s minutes increase – he’s still averaging just 3.1 minutes per game, a number so low Ken Pomeroy’s website doesn’t even list his statistics – it’s hard to know whether he will be a major contributor this season. But in case you’ve already given up on Northwestern hoops – a not uncommon sentiment, based on what I’ve heard over the past few weeks from the small number of people willing to talk about Northwestern hoops in the first place – Montgomery’s is a nice story worth tracking. The path he’s taken to reach this point is remarkable.