Many college basketball players spend their summer learning from the best players in the NBA. Bryant McIntosh has attended the Steph Curry Select Camp a few times. Tre Demps spent time with Lebron James and Scottie Pippen at Nike Basketball Academy in 2015.
But last summer, Scottie Lindsey and Gavin Skelly went to Croatia.
It’s nothing new for Northwestern basketball players – assistant coach Pat Baldwin, a former Wildcat basketball star who played professionally in Croatia, is known for taking players overseas to sharpen their skills and add new layers to their game. The list of Baldwin’s past pupils includes redshirt senior Sanjay Lumpkin and senior Nathan Taphorn, two of the Wildcats’ key contributors this season, as well as former player JerShon Cobb, who had success despite battling injuries for much of his career.
When Baldwin was selected as a head coach for Global Sports Academy this past summer, Northwestern’s coaching staff jumped on the opportunity to prepare Lindsey and Skelly for their increased roles.
“To us, it was very important that guys like Gavin, who had to take on a new role for us, got more experience,” Baldwin said. “For Gavin, it was really good because we primarily wanted to play him at one spot so he could get some post-ups, get some confidence. For someone like Scottie, it was great because we were losing Tre, and now we needed somebody along with Bryant McIntosh to take on an increased role of scoring.”
Lindsey, an inconsistent scoring option before the season, has since flourished. He’s scored in double figures in every single game this season (17 games) and leads the team in scoring with 15.6 points per game. Lindsey embraced his bigger role, and with the help of Baldwin, has become Northwestern’s go-to scorer.
“My coaches challenged me,” Lindsey said. “After the season, with Tre being gone, they said they needed people to step up and I knew I wanted to be one of those people. I worked on my offensive game – not just being a shooter, but trying to get to the line and trying to get to the basket.”
The Wildcats have needed every bit of Lindsey’s scoring improvement, especially with junior guard Bryant McIntosh’s recent shooting struggles. They’ve also needed the drastic all-around growth of Skelly, who has turned out to be one of Northwestern’s most important players this season.
A year after averaging just 3.3 points per game, Skelly has posted 7.9 points per game, the fourth-highest total for Northwestern. He’s second on the team in blocks per game (1.8), third in rebounds (4.6) and fourth in assists (1.7). Skelly, an athletic big with little offensive game a year ago, has somehow emerged as one of Northwestern’s best all-around players.
“I could shoot in high school – everything I’m doing right now I was able to do in high school,” Skelly said. “But coming to the Big Ten, everything’s a little bit faster, everyone’s a little bit stronger, everyone’s a little bit better. So [it’s important] to be able to be like, ‘Hey Gavin, you’re able to do these things – do them and we all trust you can do them.’”
The professional experience overseas and the confidence boost that came with it has been invaluable not only to Lindsey and Skelly, but to Northwestern’s success this season. The Wildcats have never before made the NCAA Tournament, but many think they will break that streak this March, and Baldwin’s summer work cannot be overlooked.
With a focus on putting players in “uncomfortable positions” on the court, Baldwin challenged Lindsey and Skelly to learn from their mistakes and grow into their increased roles – and it’s paid off.
“I think any time where you get to play against professionals, and be in a situation where guys are a little stronger, maybe a little more wise than you are, that confidence and that experience spurs development.” Baldwin said. “I think it took them to another level in preparation every day. It gave our head coach confidence in situations he could put them in, because they were going to be under fire no matter what.”