NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski previews Northwestern's Valentine's Day date with Ohio State on Thursday in Columbus.
* He is still just a true freshman. But 'Cat forward Kale Abrahamson nailed it when he said this before their Wednesday practice. "It feel likes Survivor around here," he said. "I said that when we lost Drew (Crawford) too. But someone's getting thrown off the island daily, I guess. We need to get in the cold tub, do something. I don't know what the solution is. But we've got to keep fighting."
"Iowa (Abrahamson's home state) isn't like one of those islands in the Pacific, is it?," Bill Carmody said when appraised of that comment, and then he chuckled ruefully. "I don't know. This is the way it is. You just have to keep going. I said this last week. I haven't gotten any sympathy cards from other coaches."
* Sympathy Cards. Get Well Cards. Even one of those cheesy cards showing a cat clinging to a limb with the exhortation, "Hang In There." Any and/or all of them now befit the 'Cats, who travel to Ohio State for a Thursday night meeting with the No. 13 Buckeyes as embattled as that victim in a country song who has lost his wife, his job, his dog, his cat, his rifles, his car and all his friends. Their latest losses are forward Jared Swopshire, who underwent season-ending knee surgery on Tuesday, and center Alex Olah, who is out indefinitely while recovering from a concussion. That means, after starting this season with 16 players on their roster, they will appear in Columbus with a cast of nine, only seven of them scholarship. "(Losing) seven guys in a year is kind of crazy," junior guard James Montgomery III said Wednesday.
"It was tough for me to see that happen to a guy like Swop. He's an amazing guy on and off the court," said senior guard Reggie Hearn. "Then, after thinking about what happened to him, I got to thinking about everything that's happened to the team this year. It's a little bit disheartening, of course, but we've got to keep moving on and come out and play hard tomorrow. We know what we're up against. So all we can do is go out and play. There's really not much to be said other than that."
* The 'Cats will open play on Thursday with a starting lineup of Hearn, point Dave Sobolewski, guard Tre Demps, center Mike Turner and Abrahamson. For those of you without a program, they are (in order) a senior, a sophomore, a redshirt freshman, a redshirt freshman and a true freshman. On the bench, fit to spell them, will be the senior Alex Marcotullio, who is playing hurt (balky back); Montgomery, a walk-on who has totaled 43+ minutes and 11 points this season; junior forward Nikola Cerina, who is also playing hurt (the balky ankle he sprained back in mid-November); and sophomore guard Omar Jimenez, another walk-on who has totaled 28 minutes and one point this season. "Hopefully," said Hearn, "we're done with injuries for the year. I don't know how much more we can take."
* It turns out that, on the road, Montgomery rooms with Hearn, himself a former walk on who has blossomed into one of the 'Cats steadiest performers. "To be honest, I see a lot of myself in James, kind of a similar story and everything, and I think he has a chance to help us out a lot," he would say Wednesday. "We've always talked. Even when he isn't expecting to play, he's asking questions. So he's ready and I think we'll see him contribute a lot tomorrow."
And how about a scouting report on him?
"First and foremost, it's got to start on defense," said Hearn. "He's a great defender. He has great foot speed. I think he'll help us out a lot in that area. He's also probably the fastest guy on the team, so you might see him get a few back door cuts, things like that. Really, just all around, he's solid."
"He knows what he's doing," Carmody would echo when asked the same question. "He's a pretty athletic kid. He can run, he can jump, he's a pretty disciplined guy. Basically, he's been the scorer on the scout team this year. He can get shots off, and he enjoys getting shots off, you know. But now you go from a white shirt to a purple shirt, and we'll see what happens. But he's ready to go."
* A Montgomery primer: Was recruited out of Santa Monica High School by UC-San Diego and a handful of mid-majors. But, he said Wednesday, "I wanted to play in one of the Big Six conferences and I wanted a really, really good education.". . . Was a practice player for the 'Cats women's basketball team as a freshman. Spotted then by former assistant Mitch Henderson, now the Princeton head coach, who recommended him to Carmody. Carmody, in turn, checked on him with Joe McKeown, his women's counterpart. "He said he was pretty good," he would remember. . . Asked Wednesday if Hearn was his inspiration, Montgomery said, "For me personally, yeah, a little bit. I learn a lot from him and he makes you realize what's possible. Just because I'm a walk-on doesn't mean I can't do what everybody else can do.". . . Asked what words-of-wisdom Hearn might have offered him, he said, "He told me I need to bring energy from the bench, and rebound. With Swop and Alex out, we lost a lot of rebounds. So if I can do that, that would really help the team.". . . Asked finally if his goal was to emulate Hearn and earn a scholarship, he said, "Most definitely. Anyway I can pay for my tuition, that's my goal. But I'm here because I love basketball. Freshman year, I wasn't on the team and it was rough for me. So I'm much happier just being on the team."
* And finally, Carmody: "We've all been on teams, coaches and players, where it didn't look too good and you said, 'Oh, my Lord.' Then you beat somebody you're not supposed to beat. I think that's the attitude we have to have."