The Northwestern athletic department loves to market themselves as “Chicago’s Team”. Anyone who has driven through Chicago knows this, as billboards boast the neighboring Evanston university’s football and basketball teams as Chicago’s own.
Obviously, when the third biggest media market in the country is just minutes away from one’s campus, it makes sense to try to get a strong footing in it. However, few would actually argue that Northwestern’s basketball or football teams are “Chicago’s team”. In a city filled with massive alumni bases of other Big Ten schools, over 300,000 Big Ten alumni in total, Northwestern sports really struggle to get attention.
The city, other than Wildcat alums, just don’t care too much about Northwestern.
But Chicago is more than just a huge untapped economic source — it is also a high school basketball hot-bed. Northwestern sports might not be able to tap into Chicago as a fan base, but if new coach Chris Collins can get recruits out of the Chicago public league, he can turn the basketball program around.
You see, the last time Northwestern signed a Chicago public league player, it was Michael “Juice” Thompson in 2007, who attended Lincoln Park High School. Between 2007 and 2011, there were 38 total basketball players who got at least three stars from Rivals out of the city of Chicago.
Among those 38 players, there have been stars, like Derrick Rose, Evan Turner and Anthony Davis (two no. 1 and a no. 2 NBA Draft picks). In just the 2013 class, Jabari Parker is ranked top-five in the country, while Northwestern’s rival, Illnois, has commitments from two Chicago players, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate. Northwestern has not been in the running for any of these players.
One of the biggest talent pools in the country sits next door in Chicago, yet Northwestern has no presence there. Top Chicago players don’t even look at Northwestern, instead going to Illinois, other Big Ten programs and across the country.
So, if Collins wants to find a way to turn Northwestern basketball around, it should really start by developing a presence in their own backyard. So many coaches have to fly across the country to see elite high school players, while Collins is a short drive from some of the best players in the country.
Getting into the public leagues in Chicago isn’t easy. The top high school programs are constantly being watched by the biggest college coaches in the country, with no shortage of shady happenings occurring in the recruiting process, no doubt. Collins won’t be able to get top Chicago players overnight, but the sooner he starts making relationships and attracting young players, the sooner he can turn Northwestern around.
Northwestern might not be Chicago’s team, but it would really help the Wildcats to get some Chicagoans on their team.