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Freshmen carrying heavy load for Northwestern basketball

INDIANAPOLIS IN - MARCH 14:  Chris Collins head coach Northwestern Wildcats gives instructions his team game against  Michigan

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 14: Chris Collins the head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats gives instructions to his team in the game against the Michigan State Spartans during the Quarterfinals of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 14, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 476098713

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Northwestern’s basketball freshmen shouldn’t get used to watching assistant coach Brian James haul a laundry basket up a few flights of stairs.

Armon Gates, another assistant, wheeling players’ suitcases up and down hallways? That’s a one-time deal, too. And on most days, burgeoning center Alex Olah likely has better things to do than raise a mini fridge above his 7-foot frame.

But on Sunday, when the Sun-Times was present for move-in day for the 2014 recruiting class, it was said that this was the red carpet the Wildcats roll out for every ­recruiting class. That did nothing to suggest that the class is widely considered the best in school ­history.

“They already told me that,” said Scottie Lindsey, a sharp-shooting guard from Fenwick who one source indicated always had his eye on Northwestern during his senior year. “They said, ‘This is the last time we’re ever carrying anything for you guys.’

“It’s actually been really cool with everyone being so excited. I’ve heard about it. I try not to pay attention to it too much because we really haven’t done anything yet.”

Consider that the five-man class of Lindsey, Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh, Gavin Skelly and Johnnie Vassar combined to turn down Memphis, Michigan, VCU, Illinois and Oklahoma.

The only thing those five schools have in common other than getting beaten out by Northwestern is that they all have played in the Final Four in the 2000s. Memphis, Michigan and Illinois have played for the national championship during that time.

So what made coach Chris Collins’ first recruiting class turn down tradition-rich programs for the futility of a Northwestern program that has never made the NCAA tournament?

The allure of being the class that takes Northwestern to its first tournament was more appealing.

“I really wanted to make history,” Skelly said. “I wanted to be remembered. I didn’t want us to be another class. I didn’t want to be a normal guy.

“It kind caught me off guard. I was like, ‘He [Collins] wants me, and I want to be part of history.’ ”

Skelly, by the way, is far from a normal guy. While his parents set up his dorm room, the 6-8 forward played “Coldplay” on the piano, an example Northwestern can point to when it explains its mantra “we recruit the right guys.”

On the court, the right guys are simply athletic. Collins isn’t just overhauling the culture, he’s employing a more up-tempo style that calls for multiple ball handlers to be on the floor at once.

An example of that athleticism lies in something Northwestern hasn’t been able to say often: They all can dunk, even the 6-0 Vassar.

“It’s been interesting to see how the school has kind of transformed and the culture at Northwestern has kind of changed a little bit since coach Collins has come in here,” said Law, the first to commit to the class.

Now that they’re on campus, the players can’t stand on high school and AAU accolades. They’re looking up at great expectations.

Summer workouts began Monday, as did the heavy lifting for Northwestern’s new class.


Twitter: @SethGruen

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