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Northwestern basketball coaching search: Bryce Drew

Bryce Drew has two Horizon League titles in two years in charge of the school he linked his name with on a 1998 buzzer beater. Could he have the same success if he opted to leave for Northwestern?


Although it's simplest to boil Bryce Drew's career down to a single shot, it's not the most accurate way to sum up one of the best mid-major players in NCAA history. And although it's easy to see him as a coach only capable of success at Valparaiso, he could be one of the best options for Northwestern as they choose a new head coach.

Yes, Drew took The Shot. Have you guys thought about how ridiculous a title for a moment that is? Each basketball game contains, oh, 80-130 shots, and there's about 6,000 college basketball games a year, and there are many years when college basketball has been played, and yet although there are several contenders, Bryce Drew's desperation heave against Ole Miss in 1998 is the one we mean most commonly when we call a play "The Shot". (There's Jordan vs. Utah, but that's the NBA.) Drew's play wasn't even all that impressive - he just hit an open three - the real star of the play is the anonymous Valpo player who gets into perfect position, then rises above two Ole Miss guys for a jump ball on a 60-foot inbounds pass, then in one motion seamlessly turns and fires in mid-air to find an open Drew.

But Drew was great as a player, even if you remove that play. He didn't have to play for his dad at Valpo - he could have really played anywhere - but the 6'3 guard signed up to join with the Crusaders, and dominated his conference. He won two MCC - the Mid-Continent Conference, you guys - MVP awards, and went to the NCAA Tournament all four years (ed. note: apparently just three, although they did win four conference tournaments). He didn't get drafted into the NBA because of one shot. NBA scouts are sometimes dumb enough to pick players based on one tourney game - sup, Kyle O'Quinn! - but they're not dumb enough to do it because they can hit one open three.

Drew futzed around in the NBA for a few years, even starting 41 games for the post-Jordan Bulls - jesus - before becoming an assistant for Valpo. Drew's dad, Homer Drew, had briefly tried retiring once before, handing over the reins to Scott Drew, but that Drew left for Baylor after just one year, so he went back into action. The elder Drew finally reretired in 2011, and after six years as an assistant, Drew was ready for the big show.

He's been great. Homer Drew didn't make the NCAA Tournament in any of his last seven years as Valparaiso's coach. They didn't even make the NIT; his last game in charge was a loss in the first round of the 2011 CIT. Meanwhile, in two years under Bryce, they've won the Horizon League regular season title twice and this year won the conference tournament to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.

It should be noted, however, that the renaissance isn't all Drew's doing. The majority of the team's important players - Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk, first and second in both scoring and rebounding, as well as point guard Erik Buggs - are seniors, recruited when his father was still in charge. Surely, they were recruited in part by the younger Drew and knew about his impending takeover, but they still signed up to play for his father. With that said, Drew has done an amazing job getting the squad into a strong postseason position while in charge.

So we know Drew is a young, talented coach who has proven his mettle at a mid-major. But does that make him a candidate for Northwestern?

My initial instinct is "no". Many speculate that Drew could be the "basketball Pat Fitzgerald" for Northwestern, since he's only 38, and he's exciting to be around and watch. The only hitch: he's already the basketball Pat Fitzgerald for Valpo. Much as Fitz played for Northwestern and is freakishly devoted to his school, Drew chose Valpo over other options, chose to be an assistant coach there, and now has the head job. His whole life has been at Valpo - his dad took the coaching job in 1988, when he was 14 - and if he wants to he can coach at Valpo until he wants to retire, like his father did. His playing career fizzled after he left the place he loves, and there's a decent chance his coaching career could too. Pat Fitzgerald somewhere else would just be any other coach: so much of his fire and drive and what makes him so popular amongst recruits is likely the fact that he's clearly insane about Northwestern University; I'd imagine Drew has a similar effect. Sure, many recruits would be eager to play for an excitable young Bryce Drew at Northwestern, but he might have less success pulling that than he does doing the same schtick at Valpo.

However, it could work. Scott Drew ditched his father's program after just one year to go to Baylor, and he's been a major success - after a few years of mediocrity, they've gone to the Elite Eight twice in four years. The price would have to be right - how much of a pay raise would you need to take to turn down a job as safe as Drew's is at Valpo? - but there probably is one.

Let's put it this way: getting Drew to take the Northwestern job would be the easy part. Sure, it would be hard getting him to leave a school he loved and has spent his entire life around, but that's hard in the way a modestly contested 23-footer with the game-clock expiring in the biggest game of your life is hard. Drew being successful in a new environment at a major school, on the other hand, would be the crazy leap for a jump ball off a 60-foot inbounds pass, switching momentum in mid-air, and finding an open shooter in .3 seconds. It would be hard, but Northwestern has a shot - you know, A Shot - of making it work.