Weird press release yesterday, as Juice Thompson and Jeff Ryan were named Northwestern basketball's captains heading into their trip to Italy next week. I'm not saying they don't deserve it - they do. In fact, the fact that they deserve it so much is what makes this whole thing noteworthy.
Quick: who were the captains for Northwestern's football team last year? Even if you don't know, you can think about it: who went out to the coin flip every time before kickoff? There was a photo of them locking arms with Morton Schapiro on their way out to do a coin flip. If you have to look it up, it's easy: just go to the archives for last year's news and there's a prominent press release announcing who was named captain - much like the one NU released yesterday, and the ones they had released in years past for the football team.
Now think: who were Northwestern's captains on the basketball team last year? Don't know? How bout the year before? The year before that? Look it up. It should be in the archives, right?
It should be. But to the best of my knowledge - and my knowledge is a quick skimming of recent player bios, the "history" section of the media guide, and using my apple-F function to search NU basketball's press releases since 1998 - Northwestern hasn't named team captains for their basketball team. And if they have, they haven't announced it. And if they announced it, they hid it very deeply, which doesn't seem to make much sense. (Correct me if I'm wrong, seriously, tell me if NU has ever had a captain before. But, to the best of my knowledge, this is true.)
But here we are, reading a press release about how these two seniors are newly selected team captains.
What is a captain? In college football, it's the guys who do the coin tosses and decide which direction to go in and whether they want the ball. In the NBA, only the captains on a team are allowed to talk to the referee about rule clarifications during a timeout - although referees rarely if ever call technicals explicitly for violating this rule. In soccer, the captain wears an armband and also participates in a coin flip.
In college basketball, there's no explicit mention to them as far as I can tell in the rulebook. It's just an honorary term.
So why does Northwestern need one, let alone two?
With Kevin Coble gone, a lot of people became convinced Northwestern's basketball team was doomed for failure. They can't even keep their best player - their leader, their senior star - on the court instead of keeping him from hitting the books.
Making a big deal out of naming a captain makes it clear that the team isn't rudderless. For no apparent reason, they've deemed two specific players - neither of them a scoring leader, one of whom only played in one game last year - leaders. Guys to look up to. Guys that are there, ready to do things despite the 6-foot-8 hole in all the team's plans that everybody loves to talk about. That's why we had this weird press release out of the blue. Congrats to Juice and Jeff - hope they realize how absurd and important them being captains is.
NU also released the dates of their four Italian games - they're against low-level competition that NU really shouldn't lose to in the second- and third-divisions of Italian basketball. Only two of the teams have Wikipedia pages, which is a pretty good indicator of how good a group of people is at basketball.