Jeremy Nash and I are members of the Class of 2010. We've both seen the Northwestern men's basketball team grow tremendously since our freshman year.
There's one big difference: Nash actually was part of the team and had a crucial role in helping Northwestern to two of the best seasons in program history. I just had the privilege of watching the turnaround.
Flash back to Jan. 27, 2008. This was possibly the low point of Nash's time at Northwestern. The Wildcats, after starting Big Ten play 0-6 and in desperate need of a win, traveled to Champaign to take on the struggling Illinois Fighting Illini, who were 1-6 in Big Ten play at the time.
They ran Northwestern off the court by a final score of 70-37.
Northwestern finished the year with one Big Ten victory.
Flash forward to Jan. 23, 2010. Nash, who hails from the South Side of Chicago, grew up hearing all about Illinois basketball and how great it was. When he ended up at Northwestern, Illinois was the team circled on the calendar every year. This was his last chance to beat them—and beat them he did. Nash scored a career-high 22 points in a performance for the ages.
In one of the greatest sequences I've witnessed during my four years at Northwestern, Nash hit a dagger three-pointer from the left wing to give NU the lead late in the game. Then, in typical Nash fashion, he took a charge on the other end.
He got up, spread his arms out, and screamed at the top of his lungs as he ran around the court like a madman.
Welsh Ryan Arena nearly exploded from the decibel levels reached at that moment.
I honestly think that game will be the one thing NU basketball-related I will never forget when I look back at my time as a student here 30 years from now.
Something tells me Nash feels the same way. There's nothing sweeter than finally beating your rival, in front of your fans, in the middle of the race to the NCAA tournament.
Flash back to freshman year. Nash was the forgotten man in a recruiting class that featured Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan as he averaged 2.4 points per game.
Flash forward to senior year. Coble and Ryan both went down with injuries. It was up to Nash to be the team leader.
After only making seven three-pointers his freshman year, Nash knocked down 39 of them as a senior. He filled in at the shooting guard spot and played his typical tenacious defense at the top of the 1-3-1 zone defense.
If Nash ever had a calling card, it was defense. That's how he earned minutes when he was still trying to find his way as an underclassmen. Northwestern's defense struggled in general this year, but not Nash. He led the team in steals with 58.
When you talk about leaving a legacy, you talk about what people will remember about you for years down the road.
I believe Nash's legacy will be as the man who laid the groundwork for Northwestern's first NCAA tournament bid.
No, they did not make it during his time in Evanston. But how many games would they have won the past two years without him?
They sure as heck wouldn't have won the Illinois game this year. There are many other games I remember when Nash just thoroughly confused the opposition's ball-handlers at the top of the key, causing many a turnover that led to Northwestern points.
Nash's role as a mentor cannot be overlooked. I spoke with Juice Thompson this year for a story I did about Senior Day, and he told me that playing with Nash in the backcourt had really opened his eyes to the impact good defense can have on the game.
It will be hard to replace Nash's D next season. But even though the rest of NU struggled this year on that end of the floor, I think you will see a renewed focus next year.
Strangely, Nash's departure might make the Wildcats focus more on that aspect of the game—simply because they won't be able to rely on him to force the turnovers anymore.
His passion and determination to win this season was admirable. His improvement during the past four years was significant. And while the ultimate goal was not attained, the groundwork has been laid.
Kudos to you, Jeremy Nash. Maybe we'll see you coaching the 1-3-1 here in the near future.