Homecourt Advantage

by Krissy Harper / @CSNKrisHarper

The Windy City produces some of the best basketball talent in the country, but the top recruits have recently chosen to take their skills out of state. But Northwestern head coach Chris Collins believes his program has a chance to buck the trend.

During the spring signing period, Collins hit the prospect jackpot with the commitment of the 6-7, 200-pound Victor Law of St. Rita (IL) High. A skilled wing with great size, Law is Northewestern’s only top-100 recruit in the past decade.

“Of course, I think I’m going to bring in some people, just seeing me and my optimism and my enthusiasm,” Law said. “Just like Coach Collins did toward me. I’m going to promote the message of Northwestern to other kids and hopefully them seeing me commit there, it will get their bravery up and they’ll come, too.

Signing with a school that has never been to the NCAA Tournament was a bold move by Law. But he believes this decision will definitely pay off in the end. And the confidence he possesses in his own game surely puts his mind at ease.

“I feel as though Northwestern is a place where the roof is just going to explode when we win,” Law said. “I think the town and the whole culture of Northwestern is just waiting for a winner, and I think being the first to commit, I’m going to be able to provide that.”

Collins, son of former 76ers head coach Doug Collins and former assistant to Mike Krzyzewski, is keen on signing more top talent in the area.

“I may be biased, but I’ve always felt that the players who come out of Chicago. It’s the most fertile ground for high school players in the country,” Collins said. “Not only for the high school players that we have here in Chicago, but also you have great coaches, you have great programs and kids are very competitive, and basketball means a lot to them.

“It’s a great city for basketball and to have a school right in Chicago, we want to be able to recruit our home area. It’s so very important. Young men want to stay home, want to play in front of their families and friends and get a chance to get a great education at a place like Northwestern.”

Law recognized the advantage of staying close to home early after witnessing his big sister, Simone Law, sign her letter of intent for a full basketball scholarship to Loyola, just north of downtown Chicago. And being a quick drive away from mom’s famous steak dinners played well in Northwestern’s favor as well.

“She’s a big role model in my life, so I think being only 15 minutes away from her is really something important,” said Law of his sister. “I can always go back to her and work out with her, or get her advice or something, because when you’re away, the pressures or struggles of college that you face, you’re not going to be able to get the same advice or the same home-cooked meal.”

One of the first orders of business Collins had on his first day as a head coach was to watch Law play in an ordinary open gym during the spring recruiting period. Collins’ eagerness to recruit Law made a huge impression on the rising senior.

“I thought he really showed a great interest, and I just loved his enthusiasm and his optimism about the job and what he was going to do with the program. I thought that other schools had great programs and they were doing great things, but being that first one, the person to start the legacy and start the dynasty was just something that was really important to me,” Law believed.

New assistant coach Pat Baldwin is a former Wildcat and ’93-94 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He returns to Northwestern after serving as an assistant at Missouri State for two seasons. Baldwin will be joined by Brian James, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers. Rounding out his staff is assistant coach Armon Gates, who spent the previous two seasons at the neighboring Loyola. During his playing days at Kent State, he finished second in school history in three-point field goals made. ‘Not a bad bunch of guys’ according to Collins.

“Those guys bring a lot of energy. They bring a lot of excitement. They’re hungry. They’re Chicago guys. They’re well respected in this area. They’ve recruited this area very well. But they’re also good basketball coaches,” Collins said. “When I was looking around [to hire] a staff, I wanted a little bit of everything. I didn’t just want guys who just knew how to recruit or just know how to coach, I wanted guys who had the whole package.”

Law’s plans for the next month are simple: to win the state title. And as he looks to his future at Northwestern, he wishes to only bring that same competitive spirit.

“For the duration of the summer, I really just want to play, get myself better for the school year because the ultimate goal is to win the state [championship] and to put St. Rita on the map. St. Rita is almost a similar situation to Northwestern,” Law said. “The school is great academically, but basketball wasn’t really known. It was known as a football school and when coach [Gary] DeCesare came, we really turned the culture around and it’s now a basketball power, so I think I can really do the same thing at Northwestern.”

And as Collins aims for successful tenure at Northwestern, he desires to keep his roots embedded with a Chicago soul saying, “It’s my hometown. I love this area, I love Chicago and I’m hoping to be here for a long, long time.”

Law and Collins are leading the charge into an undetermined future. But with so much talent in Chicago, their chances of finally breaking the Wildcats’ NCAA drought are bigger than ever before.