If Northwestern is going to make its first NCAA tournament this year, a lot of pressure is going to fall on the shoulders fifth-year senior Jeff Ryan. Ryan was injured in the first half of the first game against Northern Illinois last year and had to watch from the bench as his teammates went on to win a school record 20 games. His numbers aren’t going to be big, but his leadership will be. Ryan was recently named co-captain of the 2010-2011 squad along with senior point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson.
Jeff, how tough was it for you to get injured in the first game last year and miss the rest of the season?
I keep thinking back to that moment. It was really tough getting hurt so early in the year, but I’m past that. I’m glad to be back. I feel really lucky to have this opportunity to come back for a fifth year. I learned a lot watching from the sidelines last year. It’s great to be back.
What was it like watching this team have the best year in school history last year? Did it hurt not being able to help them?
When you’re not able to be out there, it’s really tough watching. You wish you could help out your teammates and go through the same things that they’re going through, but I was definitely excited about the season we had last year. We had a great team, and we’ve got pretty much everybody back this year. We’ve got a new face in [freshman] JerShon Cobb, so I’m really excited about this year’s team.
You mentioned JerShon Cobb. This is a team with a lot of young talent, with sophomore Drew Crawford playing a major role as well. How do you hope to help this team as a veteran?
I think we’re a pretty veteran team overall. Even guys like Drew and Alex [Marcotullio], who are only sophomores have played plenty of minutes, so we’ve got a lot of experience on this team. I think Juice [Thompson] and I bring that kind of experience to the table so I’m glad to be playing alongside Juice for one more year. I think, as captains, veteran leadership is something that we can bring to this team.
More specifically, how do you hope to contribute to this team? What do you see your role on this team being?
A problem we had last year was our depth, so hopefully with another body in there I can help provide some depth and step up when guys need a break. Juice, Drew and John [Shurna] played a lot of minutes last year, so if we can cut their playing time just a little bit they’ll be fresher down the stretch. It’s a really long season and we play a lot of close games, so having the legs to go the distance is really important. That’s one thing I want to bring to the table. Also, leadership is something that I’m focusing on this year as captain. I just want to make sure we stay focused as a team throughout the entire season.
A lot has been made of this team possibly going to the NCAA tournament. What do you think this team’s chances are of making the Big Dance and what would it mean to you to be part of the first-ever Northwestern team to make it to the NCAA tournament?
Obviously, that’s something that we’ve been talking about for a few years here. I think that this team has a great chance to do it, maybe the best chance in school history, but I’m not sure. All I know is that this team is very capable. We have the talent, we have the determination and we’re all focused on that goal. I think it would be a really important accomplishment for this program and this school as a whole. It would be really big for the alumni and the former players. Once we do it, it’s going to be another step in the right direction for the thirteen guys on this team.