Ever since the year started, I've commented on the importance of Northwestern freshmen needing to gain experience. With development, they are capable of helping the upperclassmen win games. As well, having good leadership to set an example for talented young players gives a team balance. These teams often have a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament.
I've been impressed with the growth of Tre Demps, Mike Turner, Kale Abrahamson and Alex Olah. Demps was very talented in high school but had a difficult time finding himself within coach Carmody's system. Lately, watching Demps perform, he has played with more comfort and confidence.
Kale Abrahamson has shown more growth in aspects of basketball aside from shooting. I've seen Kale fight for rebounds and hustle for loose balls. As he continues to get stronger, Kale will become more dangerous offensively and defensively.
When Coach Carmody first came to Northwestern he taught me the word "stoic." I was a player that wore emotions on my sleeve, and sometimes you shouldn't allow people to see what affects you. Mike Turner is always calm and "stoic" on the court. He started against Ohio State and led the team with eight assists. Turner, who was recruited to play forward, moved to the center position because he impacts the team more from that spot.
Alex Olah has the potential to be a great player in the Big Ten. Northwestern has a special player in Olah, who is 7'1 and has a soft touch around the basket. When I watched Olah earlier in the season, he wasn't as aggressive as you want your center to be. Playing against several teams with quality big men has been an essential part of his improvement.
At No. 13 Ohio State last Thursday, the Wildcats fought and believed they were the better team. Northwestern competed with great team defense. They also made shots and ran their offense with precision and patience. For 37 minutes, Northwestern controlled the game, and the fans in Value City Arena were nervous. Tre Demps led Northwestern with 16 points and added three assists. Kale Abrahamson finished the game with 13 points, while Reggie Hearn scored 12 points. But the Buckeyes ended up defeating Northwestern 69-59 after ending the game on a 12-0 run.
Against Illinois, it was great to see Alex Olah back on the court. The way he competed without fear – being aggressive and physical with Nnannah Egwu – was probably the most exciting thing I saw in Welsh Ryan from the Wildcats against the Illini. I got to call the game on WGN Radio, and I see the player Olah can be. Even though Illinois defeated the Wildcats 62-41 and dominated the entire game, the freshmen stood out in defeat.
I was fortunate to start as a freshmen and contribute right away. Playing in the Big Ten helped me to develop each year, as the league kept showing me elements I could improve in order to become an elite player. I got better each year in terms of both confidence and production. These freshmen are growing up right in front of our eyes, and this team is headed down the right path to be mentioned in the same breath as Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State.
To all the readers, fans, and followers of Northwestern basketball: don't give up on these Wildcats. The best is yet to come.
Jitim Young was a standout for Northwestern from 2000-2004. A Chicago native, he now serves as color commentator for NU basketball on WGN Radio 720.