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How Northwestern’s 2021 recruiting class brought excitement back to the program

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“We’re gonna be a problem in the Big Ten.”

Northwestern v Gonzaga Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After Chris Collins and his staff informed their two commits in the class of 2021, Brooks Barnhizer and Julian Roper, that Casey Simmons was nearing a decision on his college commitment, the two immediately reached out to Simmons. Barnhizer and Roper’s efforts paid off when they found out that Simmons committed to Northwestern via Twitter.

Once Simmons committed to Northwestern, 247Sports, among a host of other college basketball recruiting sites, ranked Northwestern’s 2021 class the third best in the nation.

Currently, the recruiting class ranks fourth nationally, slotted in behind USC, Louisville and Michigan.

Still, for the first time since the Wildcats reached the tournament in 2017, there is palpable excitement around Northwestern’s basketball program. Ty Berry, a three-star combo guard and incoming NU freshman, publicized his excitement:

Barnhizer also publicized his excitement, retweeting both Inside NU and former 247Sports recruiting expert and current CAA basketball coach, Evan Daniels:

Barnhizer and Berry were not the sole representatives of the program to voice their exhilaration, but given the two’s task in rebuilding this basketball program, these endorsements serve as powerful ones.

Barnhizer, a three-star commit from Lafayette, Indiana, attributed picking Northwestern over schools such as Butler and Xavier to his relationship with Collins and the rest of his staff. The sharpshooter also credits Northwestern’s academics as a key factor in earning his commitment. He said that Northwestern is an opportunity he “can’t pass up” due to the Big Ten basketball and almost-Ivy League education. More than anything, though, Barnhizer believes Northwestern will be a reckoning force soon.

“We’re gonna be a problem in the Big Ten,” he said.

Barnhizer should be an interesting player for Wildcat fans to watch. He considers himself a “big guard” that can also play the wing. He plans on handling the ball, making plays for his teammates, slashing and scoring. He can do a bit of everything.

While Northwestern coaches compared Barnhizer’s play to Bryant McIntosh when he visited campus last summer, he will likely play a less ball-dominant role than the former star point guard. Still, Barnhizer could facilitate the offense and be tasked with creating shots for players such as Boo Buie, Casey Simmons, Julian Roper and others.

Barnhizer also said that he and Roper have already developed a bond and he cannot wait for the basketball class of 2021 commits to gel with one another on campus.

Casey Simmons’ style of play differs from Barnhizer. Simmons is nearly un-guardable when creating plays for himself off of the ball. According to his AAU coach Vin Pastore, his Rivals basketball club would “allow him to go create, run a set that gets him the ball on the wing and lets him create off the dribble.”

“That’s where he’s at his best, and he’s pretty un-guardable in that scenario,” Pastore said.

Simmons’ high school coach at Milton Academy, Lamar Reddicks, delivered glowing remarks about his player. Reddicks — who had a pre-existing relationship with Collins by coaching former Northwestern recruiting target and current Notre Dame player Cormac Ryan — said he has become very comfortable with the NU coaching staff.

Reddicks called Simmons a phenomenal kid and “as coachable as any kid ever.” In terms of a basketball player, He said his player’s best attributes on the court include his instincts and athleticism. Although Simmons, a four-star prospect and the 92nd ranked prospect in the 2021 recruiting class by 247Sports, struggled early in his high school career with shooting the basketball, Reddicks said that Simmons has vastly improved in this area.

The last piece in Northwestern’s 2021 recruiting class features three-star shooting guard Julian Roper. Hailing from Franklin, Michigan, Roper committed to Northwestern over schools such as Wisconsin, Alabama, DePaul and Illinois. While Barnhizer and Simmons offer versatility and playmaking abilities, Roper is a pure scorer. If Roper and Buie continue to develop, the pair could become an elite set of shooters in the Big Ten.

With such a stacked recruiting class, many Northwestern fans may ponder, what’s next? The elephant in the room, of course, is Patrick Baldwin Jr. The five-star recruit and consensus top-five player in the class of 2021 has deep ties to the school and has been on Northwestern fans’ radars for quite some time.

According to Barnhizer, once Baldwin Jr. comes closer to making a decision, the trio of 2021 commits will pull out all of the tricks in terms of luring him to the Wildcats.

Currently, though, Northwestern does not have space for another member in the class of 2021. As we have seen in the past year, it is possible, of course, that a player transfers or that Anthony Gaines opts to play his fifth season elsewhere.

Still, as of now, Northwestern remains in the hunt for Baldwin Jr., four-star point guard Jordan Akins, four-star combo guard Tamar Bates and three-star point guard Angelo Brizzi, who is also being recruited by Villanova and Michigan.

All four players would be impressive gets for Northwestern and icing on the cake for a vaunted 2021 recruiting class.

For the first time in a few years, exciting things seem to be on the horizon for Northwestern’s basketball program.