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Lone freshman Taphorn navigates new system, campus

Northwestern will have two new guys this season.

One has been much discussed and highly analyzed, and comes in with an impressive resume and big expectations. That, of course, is new head coach Chris Collins.

The other new guy has flown somewhat under the radar, acknowledged but overshadowed by storylines of a fired coach, a decommitted player, and the ever-lasting quest for a Tournament berth.

This, of course, is incoming freshman Nate Taphorn, a 6-7 forward from Pekin, Ill., who will enter the 2013-2014 season as the only true freshman on the Wildcats’ roster.

Taphorn originally committed under coach Bill Carmody, but once Carmody was fired in March, Taphorn knew that NU was still the place for him.

“Right after Coach Carmody got fired, I knew I didn’t want to go anywhere else, I just had to keep it to myself,” he said. “That was a pretty hard thing for me, to keep my emotions inside about the whole thing because knowing Coach Carmody for two years and not seeing who was going to coach me next was tough but I knew that school was great and it was 99 percent sure I was going to stay here.”

Taphorn will add another long-range shooter to NU’s arsenal, a potentially useful weapon after last year’s offensive drought. While he will be hard-pressed to find a lot of minutes in his rookie year, he will make an impact on the scoresheet with the limited time he does get on the court.

“He’s got his length, great shooting ability. He’s gonna be a great freshman,” redshirt freshman Sanjay Lumpkin said. “He’s got a bright future. So far in practice, he’s been fitting in perfectly with the team and playing really well.”

While the on-court transition to college basketball is strenuous enough, the incoming freshmen is also faced with the task of navigating a new campus and more rigorous academics. He’s easing into that lifestyle this summer with two classes, English and Bioethics.

“Just getting your homework done is the hardest thing,” he said. “Getting up in the morning when you don’t have practice until 10 and eating breakfast, getting your work done and then going to work out. That’s pretty tough.”

To compensate for the lack of fellow freshmen, Taphorn said he is leaning on his elder teammates and other freshmen athletes to help him out.

“I’ve made some other friends, football guys and all the guys in the locker room are my friends,” he said. “I think if I had another guy with me, it would be a little but easier to just be like ‘hey, let’s go do this or let’s go in and shoot.’ I think it would be easier to do that stuff and get acclimated with it. But Sanjay (Lumpkin) and all the other sophomores have helped me out.”

One of the challenges for Taphorn has been figuring out Northwestern’s shuttle system. But a teammate had some advice for that.

“Sanjay told me about the app,” he said. “I didn’t even know about it.”

Being the only new guy can be tough, especially when it comes to team practical jokes. Taphorn said he hasn’t fallen victim to any pranks yet.

He laughed and glanced at the locker room. “I’m waiting for it.”