Dec. 20, 2013
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski provides an update on the Northwestern men's basketball team heading into its penultimate game of the regular-season nonconference schedule.
AT MIDWEEK, when we visited with JerShon Cobb, he was not certain if he would return for the `Cats Sunday matinee against Brown. "But," he added, "my goal is to play. I want to get back on the court. I don't like spectating. I did that all last year."
EIGHT DAYS AGO, at the end of a practice, Cobb went up, landed awkwardly, and quickly attended both his knee and his ankle. It was the latter that was sprained, which is why he missed the `Cats Monday win over Mississippi Valley State. But, recalled Chris Collins, "You didn't really know what it was until we calmed down. Obviously it was very painful. Those things happen. But obviously it was a setback for us. He's such an important guy. The good thing was, it's nothing that's going to be long term."
COBB'S IMPORTANCE to the `Cats is reflected in his statistical line. He leads them in minutes played (33.1 pg) and in steals (10, the same as point Dave Sobolewski). He is their second-leading scorer (13.6 ppg) and has handed out more assists (28) than any of them but Sobolewski (34). He also averages 4.4 rebounds per-game, and then there is this. He and Sobolewski and Tre Demps are the `Cats only true ball handlers. "It's a major need for us," Collins said of that skill. "We need guys out there who can lead the team and handle the ball and break pressure. We don't have a ton of guys like that sitting on the bench."
of course, is mired in an Ice Age shooting slump that began after he torched UIC with 25 points while hitting half of his eight three-point attempts. Since then, over seven games, he is just two-of-29 from distance, which is why we wondered if Collins had talked to his point about his struggles. He communicates continually with all his players, he began. But, he then continued, "The one thing you've got to be careful about, especially when it's with shooting, to me it's a little bit like golf. If you get too many thoughts in your head, it makes it worse. And if you start listening to too many people about your footwork, or your elbow-- with shooting you've got to be a little bit careful.
"You've just got to put your time in, put your work in, get the right shots. And he's getting the right shots. Every shot he took in our game (against Mississippi Valley State) were wide-open shots. They're shots we believe he can make and he has made. We've just got to stick with him. I'm just a firm believer that everything averages itself out. That's the message I give to him. Keep taking the right shots. Keep preparing for the right shots. And sooner or later you're going to get real hot."
COLLINS KNOWS all about Ice Age slumps, suffering through one himself after returning from a broken foot as a Duke junior. That year he shot just 29.8 percent overall, 23.3 percent on his threes and averaged a mere 3.9 ppg. "I had a horrible year. Shot a miserable percentage and struggled with confidence," he recalled.
But the following season, as a senior, he shot 46.7 percent overall, 44.1 percent on his three and averaged a healthy 16.3 ppg. "You've just got to keep fighting and you've got to get yourself out of it," he picked up. "The worse thing you can do is let naysayers effect how you're approaching everything. You've got to stay confident, stay true to yourself. . . Sometimes you get in those ruts. He just needs that one game where one or two go down and he gets his confidence back."
SOBOLEWSKI, understandably, has little interest in parsing his struggles. "It's basketball. There's peaks and valleys. I'm attacking it, working hard and it will all work itself out," he would offer at one point.
At another he also said, "I'm shooting the ball great in practice, and every shot that leaves my hands feels great. I'm just doing what I've always done."
Tre Demps, throughout his career as a `Cat, has often appeared to know only one speed, and that was overdrive. But last Monday, after a controlled-and-efficient performance against Mississippi Valley State (18 points on seven-of-13 shooting), he avowed, "I've slowed down a little bit. Early on in the year, I was really giddy, I was really excited."
What catalyzed the change, we more recently asked him.
"Talking to coach a lot, he said energy and excitement is not a problem (for me). Slowing down and seeing the game is more of a concern for me," he said. "I can get myself so sped up that I can hurt myself. So I've been focusing really on slowing down. A lot of times I'd catch the ball and just try to go. Catching the ball and seeing where the defense is, that's something he mentioned to me. That's definitely helped out a lot."
In what way?
"I feel I'm a lot more controlled when I'm out there playing," he said. "I can make reads too. I'm not just trying to jack up a shot real quick. I'm able to get a good shot instead of just getting up a shot. It's like, `Be quick. But not in a hurry.'"
AND FINALLY, COLLINS, on Sunday's game with Brown: "You always worry, that last game before Christmas break, you want your guys to stay focused on the task at hand. You don't want them on the plane or in the car before the game's over."
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