Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.
As the clock in Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center dwindled, players in white triumphantly lifted their arms in the air, making their way to a volcano of purple that had just erupted.
For the first time in exactly six years, the Northwestern Wildcats had won a game with a blue “NCAA” icon sewn onto their jerseys, beating Boise State to advance to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.
Trotting toward the lavender border of center court, NU star Boo Buie motioned for the crowd to rejoice, to scream and yell and even cry with the despairs and valleys of the last six campaigns evaporated. Then, No. 0 reached the ‘Cats’ bench.
The first person Buie high-fived? A specific coach in a purple quarter-zip.
That coach wasn’t just any generic assistant: it was Buie’s brother, Talor Battle.
For the two siblings, that second-long embrace embodies a bond that transcends swishing threes, dishing dimes or even the chaos of March Madness itself. In fact, it’s a journey that defines the very essence of Northwestern — and all levels of — basketball.
As the Wildcats soared to their second-ever waltz in the Big Dance, they created a season for the ages: 12 conference victories, the most in program history; two players on the top-two All-Big Ten teams for the first time ever; and an inaugural win over the No. 1 team in the country.
Throughout the entire journey to Sacramento, NU’s fate has been guided by the vision, ball-handling, decision-making and leadership of one player in particular: Buie. The senior from Albany, New York became Northwestern’s first First Team All-Big Ten recipient since John Shurna 11 seasons prior, also being named to the Bob Cousy Award Finalist list, recognizing the best point guard across the country.
Buie’s growth from his junior to his senior season has bedazzled Wildcat fans and award voters alike over the last five months. But, his ascendance throughout not just the conference, but also across the grandest stages, has meant even more for his brother to witness — right from NU’s bench feet from the court.
“It’s been cool just to watch his growth, his leadership,” Battle said in advance of the Wildcats’ Round of 32 matchup with UCLA. “The player he’s grown into has been really a proud moment for me to watch him as a brother.”
Having played at Penn State from 2007-11, Battle was a star in his own right for the Nittany Lions, sitting atop the mantle of the school’s all-time scoring ranks. Like his younger brother, the Wildcat assistant made the conference’s First Team pantheon and also helped the PSU program achieve newfound heights when he guided the Lions to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 seasons. Beyond just those parallels, a literal kinship unites the Wildcats’ tandem.
“A lot of coaches in this business, it could kind of be just about their job or just about basketball. With it being my brother, it’s a lot more supportive,” Buie said. “It’s a lot more hands-on as well. It’s just a lot easier giving your full trust knowing that they really want the best out of you and just want the best for you.”
For Northwestern head coach Chris Collins, the virtue of family has been quintessential from the start; after all, his father Doug coached the Chicago Bulls from 1986-89. To be able to leverage such inextricable ties on a roster is far from common — but, in Northwestern’s case, is at the root of the team’s success.
“Talor has been an amazing influence on Boo. Boo looks up to Talor in so many ways,” Collins said. “Just to have that security, kind of having family on the bench in ups and downs, to have someone you can fully trust over there, I think really has helped Boo’s development over the past two years. It’s been fun to watch.”
Growing up in a household of nine children in Albany, Buie and Battle were part of a frenetic household — understandably so.
“It was a lot, to be honest with you,” Battle said about his childhood. “There was a lot of us — a lot of different personalities.”
One element that connected distinct genders, ages and personalities? The game of basketball.
Whether through forming socks into balls and aiming at laundry baskets or opposing one another on an actual court, Buie, Battle and their other seven siblings engaged in intense duels with choruses of smack talk.
“I think that’s just a whole family trait of ours. I mean, we talk trash nonstop,” Battle said. “It could about anything. That’s who we are as a family.”
Battle, 34, is 11 years Buie’s senior. As an older brother often feels is a perquisite, Battle ensured he put his younger sibling up to tasks.
“For the time we were [together], he was just my little brother,” Battle recalled. “I would send him to the trash to throw something out or go grab me some snacks.”
In 2007, Battle left home for Penn State’s campus, beginning his trajectory at the collegiate and professional levels. Every step of the way, Battle’s family watched assiduously, including Buie, who even grew up a Nittany Lions fan — something which feels blasphemous to consider today.
“My mom moved up to Pennsylvania, State College, so that we could be out there with him and support him,” Buie said. “I grew up going to all his games, watching him. It was pretty cool.”
As Battle’s tenure in blue and white concluded in 2011, the 6-foot guard ventured east to play for France’s Cholet Basket. The transaction sparked a seven-year professional career overseas, featuring stops in Italy, Belgium, Israel, Hungary and Slovenia. Despite time differences of up to seven hours apart across hemispheres, the two siblings never lost connection.
After the departure of Northwestern assistant coach Emanuel Dildy to Oklahoma in 2021, an opening emerged on the Wildcats’ staff. Buie, entering his junior season, knew the perfect candidate: Battle, who had just begun his coaching career back in State College.
“I found out that the position was going to be opening. I had just reached out to him, like, ‘Hey there’s a position opening, and I think you could be a really good fit,’” Buie said. “Coach [Collins] said that he thinks you could be a really good fit, and he would like to give you an interview. Once I found out he was coming, I was just really excited to get to work.”
Buie’s recruiting pitch worked: Battle was hired as an assistant in Evanston, Illinois in May 2021. That’s when the brothers not only refined their craft, but also elevated their own personal dynamics.
Inherently, siblings share a unique, telepathic sort of relationship. While that may create benefits in terms of special vantage points or pieces of advice, it can also pose challenges — for example, laughing in the company of one another over something only two brothers could understand.
For Buie, though, the point guard perceives learning under his brother as if a filet were sitting in front of him, underscoring a balance between work and play.
“If you’re somewhere with your family member, you guys are at a serious dinner or something, you know when pick and choose to joke around and be serious,” Buie said. “I would just say most of the time, we’re super serious, because that’s just our character and our nature, especially on the court. Then, when we’re off the court, we’re laughing it up and everything’s joy.”
In many cases, older brothers have the precise words of guidance for their younger companions. Battle has embraced the sage mentor role for his junior, understanding when to praise and to criticize constructively — coming from a place of love and mentorship.
“I think it’s a fine line because I can’t be too nice all the time, or I can’t always be on him the hardest all the time,” Battle said. “Just trying to find that fine line of when there’s times to get after him, or other times, to pick him up.”
As Buie’s production augmented by 3.2 points per game and 0.9 rebounds per contest, coupled with pacing the entire conference in free throw percentage, the guard demonstrated growth as a scorer, facilitator and leader for the Wildcats. In his brother’s mind, that change has fostered a deeper personal relationship.
“With him growing up and his maturity, we can hang out a lot more outside of the court,” Battle said. “More of a becoming an adult kind of feeling versus just, ‘Hey, little bro, do this’ or ‘You gotta do that.’ Now that he’s come of age and grown up, I think our relationship is just getting tighter and tighter.”
To understand Buie’s ascension is also to recognize the impact of Battle — not only on his younger brother, but on the entire Northwestern team.
“Talor is a terrific young coach. I would want him on my staff even if Boo wasn’t on the team,” Collins said. “[He] has been a great influence on our whole team.”
In Buie’s eyes, Battle leverages energy, youth, scouting and field vision to create clear conceptualizations.
“When it’s time to demonstrate something that maybe an older coach may not be able to demonstrate with action, he can only explain by words,” Buie said. “Some players are visual learners. So in that aspect, it helps a lot. Just showing you visually is better.”
In terms of how his brother aids his game in particular, Buie recognized that Battle’s ability to recognize tendencies, especially in the initial moments of games, has helped refine his own craft.
“He’ll tell me specific moments if I miss something, or if something’s there and I’m not taking advantage of the opportunity,” Buie emphasized. “He’ll tell me right then and there in the game.”
With any brothers, competition fuels a lifelong rivalry of sorts. As a result, it may not be surprising for Buie to feel confident in his own independent abilities, sans the guiding hands of Battle.
“I’m usually pretty good at just reading it [the floor] on my own,” the guard said.
As for how their playing styles compare, Battle underscored a common thread of tenacity. In other facets of their techniques, though, the assistant believes that his younger brother possesses his own set of more advanced skills.
“He’s got that floater down pat; I never had that in my game. I kind of just tried to get all the way to the rim and shoot threes,” Battle said. “I think later in my career, I turned mostly into the scoring guard, and I think he’s a floor general.
“Different players, but a lot of people say we look the same when we’re out there moving around. That might just be genetics.”
While Northwestern’s players, coaches, administrators and fans have made their way out to northern California, none has forgotten to bask in the moment, a destination not reached in the last six years.
As they surpassed the No. 10-seed Broncos, the ‘Cats were led by Buie — who else? His 22 points were three shy of tying an NU NCAA Tournament record held by current assistant Bryant McIntosh. Even more critically, the performance is a culmination of Buie’s never-ending desire for improvement, something which is of enhanced significance to his big brother.
“I don’t want to take any credit for what he’s done,” Battle said. “For Boo, I think his strength, that’s a testament to his work. Playing off two feet is something that he’s done phenomenally all season long; I think it’s helpful to be under control, get to those two-foot flow shots. His determination, his growth as a leader. All the things outside of just basketball has made him into the player that he is.”
In the eyes of its star point guard, NU’s accomplishments have not yet set in, in part because of the team meeting its preseason expectations — which received few, if any, outside endorsements — as well as continuing the pursuit of a national championship. However, part of Buie’s coaching ensemble has taken a metaphorical step back about two brothers living a dream.
“I smile when I see some of the videos of them hugging, all those,” Collins said. “They’re going to look back on this. To have those moments together, man, those are really special things for families.”
With the Wildcats competing in Sacramento, Battle hasn’t been the only member of the family to savor the moment. Buie’s mom, nieces and other extended family members made the near-3,000-mile journey to witness their son make history, cultivating memories of a lifetime.
“It’s been really cool as a family,” Battle reinforced. “For everyone to be out here that’s our family and to watch Boo to have his moment on the stage. I’m just a small part of it. Twenty years from now, it’ll be a really cool thing when can reflect on this time that we had.”
As Northwestern’s senior statesman and burgeoning assistant walked off the Golden 1 Center hardwood on Thursday night, it was a moment that combined their very positions, career trajectories and family intersection. With at least 40 more minutes of basketball guaranteed to be played in his potentially his final season, Buie won’t forget the legacy of the Wildcats’ 2022-23 campaign — especially in how its magical aura shaped his own familial relationship with Battle.
“I think it’s brought us even more together,” Buie said. “Just all of the things that we’ve been through, off the court and then now on the court. Just creating special moments and making history. Second Tournament team in history. It’s just been a special moment.”