Two years ago in Salt Lake City, Zach Pereles asked each Northwestern player the same question after their season-ending loss to Gonzaga. “What will you remember about this year and this experience?” As the clock neared 11 p.m. Wednesday at the United Center in Chicago, we walked into an emotional locker room after NU’s 74-69 overtime loss to Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and tried to ask as many players as possible the same question.
Here’s what they had to say:
Pardon, who finished with 17 points in his final game as a Wildcat, was frank but emotional in the locker room. He said he will remember his teammates the most: “Just being able to like to spend time with them off the court and just the memories I’m going to have with them that never go away. Just being around these guys, I’ll always remember that.”
The big man also touched on a larger theme that Chris Collins mentioned in his press conference — the Wildcats never gave up on each other. “We were never satisfied,” Pardon said. “I mean, it [sic] was ample times we could have quit on this season, the way it was going but we never did. We fought every day, every practice. So that’s something I’ll always admire about these guys and I’m not worried about these guys moving forward because I know they’re going to work so I’m just looking forward to see what they see they can do.”
Law had the hardest job of anyone on Wednesday night. He watched the game in street clothes from the Northwestern bench, often unable to even stand up and support his teammates following his leg injury he sustained on Senior Day. In the locker room, he kept a hoodie over his head and focused his eyes on the ground, giving one sentence answers.
Q: How hard was it to have to sit this one out?
A: It was, uh, it was hard.
Q: I talked to your dad, he said you couldn’t push off on the leg.
A: Couldn’t do it today.
Q: If you guys had won, you think you might have been able to play tomorrow?
A: I don’t know.
Q: When you look back at the season, what did you do well and why didn’t it go better, do you think?
A: I didn’t do enough. That’s it. I didn’t do enough.
Q: What’s kind of what’s going through your mind right now reflecting on your Northwestern career?
A: I’m just sorry I couldn’t do it for [unintelligible]. Just sorry. Yeah.
Aaron Falzon came to Northwestern in 2015 with Jordan Ash and Dererk Pardon. He was honored on Senior Day but still has a year of eligibility left: “Just playing with these guys, playing with Dererk, playing with Jordan, playing with Vic and playing with the young freshman. I mean it’s really the guys and the players I’ll remember most about Northwestern and the times we had, the battles we had in practice and the games we had.”
Ash only played in ten games as he dealt with lower body issues all season: “Every year’s different but what’s most consistent is always ... having the opportunity to learn and get to know some lifelong friends. Regardless of what our record was, this team fought every game and the future’s bright. We’ve got a lot of great young players, guys that grew throughout the year.”
Hall struggled to hold his tears back as he reflected on his career: “Just going to miss it a lot and everything that this place has given me on and off the court and everyone that’s come through here. All my teammates my from my freshman year to now, I couldn’t have asked for better guys. I’m just going to miss it a lot, but I’m eternally grateful that it happened.”
Taylor is one of the most dispassionate interviewees on the team. But his voice caught as he reflected on he’ll remember for his lone season in Evanston: “Just the guys and the bonds that we created throughout the season.”
Turner showcased a glimpse of the future with 20 points and five assists. He dished on what he learned from seniors: “I think the senior class, like Vic, Dererk, Jordan, all taught us just to show up every day just ready to work. It’s a tough league. So if we don’t show up every day ready to work and ready to get better, then it’s gonna be hard to win. So I think just giving it your all every day, not trying to skip steps.”
Benson was in tears as the media entered the locker room: “First and foremost, I’m gonna remember my seniors,” Benson said. “The way they took care of me when I came in here and showed me the way, how to be a college basketball player, college student-athlete and grow as a man. That’s the biggest thing that’s going to stick out with me. Memories with those guys are just, they’re countless and they’re all invaluable moments so I’m going to cherish those and the good times, and persevering through the bad times as well.”
Nance was the most broken up about the seniors leaving: “I’m just thankful for everything that the seniors have done for me. Ever since I got here, they’re always been so welcoming and ... they taught me just about everything I know. They’re always there to talk with me. They’ve always just like a role model to me and I’m really thankful for everything that they’ve done for this program, and for me personally, and I know everybody else in the team feels the exact same way.”
Asked to speak about Vic Law and Dererk Pardon specifically, Nance continued: “Just everyday, coming in and smiling and laughing with those guys in the locker room. I mean, every day they kept a positive attitude and kept us pushing. Regardless of wins or losses, they always believed in every one of us and gave us full confidence to shoot our shots and just develop as players and that’s huge to have when you’re a young guy in this league so I’m just so thankful for that and it means so much to me. They have no idea.”
His eyes bloodshot, Kopp called his freshman year “a roller coaster” and said the seniors helped him each day: “I’ve been never been on a team in my life that’s been this close and this fun and every time we’re around each other, it’s just awesome. And I’m going to remember the seniors and how much they helped and the impact they had on my life.”
A freshman who reclassified into the Class of 2018, Ryan Greer was thrust into point guard duties early in his college career. He said he will remember the feeling of a season-ending loss: “Just the journey that the seniors took us on. Like I said, they’ve been through it all. Rooming with a senior on the road it really just taught me a lot and I’ll remember the work that they put in and try and do the same thing in the future.”
Young spent his redshirt season shadowing Dererk Pardon and Barret Benson: “What I’ll remember most is just learning from the older guys, being able to watch all the games. Just learning from Dererk, playing against everyone in practice. Just watching.”