Chicago Colleges: John Shurna
Northwestern had lost its all-time leading scorer in small forward John Shurna, and there wasn’t a logical replacement on the roster.
The 6-foot-8, 210-pound Swopshire, who was a redshirt junior last season, was looking for a new school after he was told there wouldn’t be a spot for him on Louisville’s roster during the 2012-13 season. He was on pace to graduate from Louisville, so he had the chance to take advantage of the NCAA’s post-graduate transfer rule and play somewhere immediately.
Northwestern did its research. Swopshire and his family did their research. It take didn’t long for either to realize they were a match.
“I took a visit here, loved the coaches, loved the players, the system,” Swopshire said prior to Tuesday’s game ACC/Big Ten Challenge game with Maryland. “I’m here.”
Shurna, who is Northwestern’s all-time leading scorer, was not selected in last week’s NBA draft. He met with the Hawks coaching staff on Tuesday and will work out in Atlanta until the Las Vegas league begins on July 13. It will run until July 22.
While Shurna was disappointed that he wasn’t drafted last week, he remains hopeful to make it to the NBA.
“I watched the draft with my dad,” Shurna said on Tuesday. “My name was not called. I know I worked as hard as I could in the [pre-draft] workouts, and that’s all you could do. On draft night, I realized how fortunate I am to have great friends.
“I think obviously everyone wants to hear their named called on draft night. I’m still in a good situation.”
Shurna’s plan for the summer league is to play as he always has throughout his career. His priority is to win.
“I think you have to treat it like every other game,” Shurna said. “Just go out there and play as hard as you can and try to help your team win. Try to win basketball games. I think you’re on a team, and the goal is to win a basketball game. You want to make winning plays and help your team win and compete as hard as you can.”
Shurna was a first-team all-Big Ten selection last season and averaged 20 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals. He led the Big Ten in scoring. Northwestern reached a school-record four consecutive NITs during his career.
John Shurna has been forced to do something throughout his NBA draft preparation he refrained from throughout his Northwestern playing career.
Shurna has boasted about himself.
Shurna’s mentality has always been team first. Even as he broke Northwestern’s career scoring record last season, he deflected questions about his own abilities and praised his coaches and teammates for putting him in the position to score 2,038 career points. It’s just never been in his DNA to self congratulate.
Over the past month, however, Shurna has had to alter his personality for NBA general managers. While ultimately Shurna’s game – a 6-foot-9 forward whose premier NBA skill is shooting – will be the deciding factor whether a team selects him in Thursday’s NBA draft, he has looked to impress teams just as much during the interview portion of his workouts.
“I think every job interview you’re selling yourself,” Shurna said by phone from New Orleans on Tuesday. “Every time I would bring up the success we had as a team. You have to point out your own strengths and things like that. My agent was harping on me to make sure this was an individual thing. That was a tough adjustment going from everything is team oriented and you just want to win. It’ll be an individual process for one day on Thursday, and then it’s back to being about the team.”
Shurna is unsure what to expect Thursday. He worked out for 13 teams, including his final workout with the New Oreland Hornets on Thursday.
No team has guaranteed anything, but Shurna said most organizations have been positive with him. In a workout with the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, he drained 36-of-40 3-pointers.
“I’m excited,” said Shurna, who missed Northwestern’s graduation due to a NBA workout. “I think I’ve received a lot of positive feedback. I think I’m a guy who continues to rise in this draft. At the end of the day, I know I’ve competed my hardest and given it all I can. I think that’s all you can do. I can look at myself in the mirror, and I did the best I can. After that, it’s out of my hands.”
Shurna’s size and shooting ability (he won the college 3-point title during the Final Four weekend) could prove attractive to an NBA team. Shurna’s upside could be similar to New York Knicks forward Steve Novak, a 6-10 forward from Marquette, who led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage last season.
“I think shooting is an attribute I can bring to an organization,” Shurna said. “Every team can use shooting, and I’m a guy who has done that and proven it against the Big Ten and in these workouts. I’ve always thought one of my best attributes is I’m a competitor and I love to win. I’ll go out and make the hustle plays and run up and down the floor and do the little things that help a team to win.
“I also think from the Princeton offense in order to have success you have to be an all-around player, dribble, shoot, pass, shred the defense. I think I’ve shown I have a good all-around game and great base set of skills. I think there’s plenty of potential there still. I was very productive as a college player and our class was the winningest class at Northwestern. That’s the great stat I have. I’ve shown I can win and individually I’ve had a great deal of success.”
Shurna has been asked about his unorthodox shot. It’s never been a deterrent to him getting his shot off, and he has been told it shouldn’t be a factor in how he’s valued in the NBA.
“I think I’ve shown I’ve had success in college and every level I’ve gone with it and the ball goes in,” Shurna said. “It doesn’t seem to be a concern.”
On Thursday, Shurna will watch the draft with his family in their Glen Ellyn, Ill. home. His primary hope is to have his name called by any team. If it were happen to be the Chicago Bulls who took him, that would be a dream come true.
“I’ve been a Bulls fan all my life,” Shurna said. “That would be awesome. I would be happy anywhere. Putting on any NBA jersey is an honor. Being a Chicago kid, the Bulls would be very cool.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I’m excited, though. It’s been an incredible opportunity. This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not many people get a chance to try out for the NBA. I know I’m very fortunate and blessed to be in this situation.”
This year’s competition will be held at Tulane’s Fogelman Arena at 8 p.m. and will be broadcasted on ESPN.
Shurna was among the country’s top 3-point shooters this season. He was 95 of 216 (.440) from 3-point range. His 274 career 3-pointers made rank third in Northwestern history.
Craig Moore was the last Northwestern player to compete in the 3-point contest. He competed in 2009.
Shurna will also participate in the Reese’s College All-Star Game at the Louisiana Superdome on March 30. The game is at 3:35 p.m. and will air on March 31 on truTV.
The NIT is old hat to Northwestern.
In other words, Northwestern has been here before.
Getting to the NIT as a higher seed and advancing a few rounds is nothing to brag about for the Wildcats any longer. This is now the fourth consecutive year the NIT has been their destination.
While it’s difficult to deem this season anything other than a disappointment because Northwestern failed to reach the NCAA tournament again, the one way the Wildcats can still nudge the program forward is by winning the NIT championship. Anything less and it would hard to gauge this season as progress.
Expectations have noticeably changed in recent years. Where Northwestern’s players were happy to be invited to the NIT the last few seasons, the Wildcats weren’t anywhere near happiness on Sunday nor even 24 hours later on Monday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- On Thursday night, the Northwestern Wildcats didn’t talk like an NCAA tournament team. They didn’t look like one, either.
Somewhere within the vicinity of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the NCAA selection committee will finalize its bracket in the coming days. And the Wildcats should not be included.
They had their chance to impress and they squandered it.
“I don't know. Hopefully, I won't be disappointed on Sunday,” said Northwestern star John Shurna. “But I guess we'll just have to wait and see. We'll be playing next week, and we like to compete no matter who we're playing against.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker for good storylines, too.
Northwestern fans around the world will celebrate the program’s first-ever bid if it happens. The buildup to NCAA tournament No. 1 will consume all of Evanston, Ill. The players within the program certainly put in the work to position themselves for a shot at history leading up to the Big Ten tournament.
But decisions have to be made without consideration of TV story packages. The selection process should answer only one question: Who’s earned it?
And the Wildcats had to do more in Indianapolis to prove that they’d earned a ticket. Instead, they lost to Minnesota for the second time this season.
They led 61-57 with three minutes to play. But they missed three shots and committed two crucial turnovers in the final minutes of regulation. They then lost 75-68 in overtime.
I am not biased toward any particular program. But I do believe the best should earn bids.
And it’s hard to see how that team -- which had to make a statement following an 8-10 record in Big Ten play and a 1-10 record against the RPI’s Top 50 -- gets into the field of 68 after that performance Thursday.
In my opinion, the Wildcats got an F on the eye test against the Gophers. They had something to prove and didn’t play like they knew it in crucial stretches.
They didn’t execute like a tournament team desperate for résumé-boosting victories.
This is not just about Northwestern. This is about the entire field.
This is about Drexel, a team that's lost two games since early December. This is about Tennessee, a team that’s won eight out of nine. This is about competition.
Teams deserve credit for their full body of work. Northwestern’s portfolio put the Wildcats in a pool of schools with similar arguments for NCAA tournament invites.
But if the selection committee aims to create the most competitive bracket, then it should rewatch NU’s effort Thursday night. It warrants scrutiny.
Every “must-have” performance within the bubblesphere does.
I watched the Northwestern-Minnesota game from press row at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. And I did not see a team that belonged in the Big Dance.
Perhaps the selection committee has already penciled in the Wildcats as a tournament team. Well, that’s why we have erasers.
This is a great story. And it’s easy to root for a Northwestern team that has never participated in the NCAA tournament. History can be quite cruel.
But that shouldn’t factor into the decision to say yea or nay to the Wildcats on Selection Sunday.
They were presented with an opportunity to make a statement on national TV on Thursday. And the Wildcats ultimately offered an argument against their first bid.
“I'm still here. It's hard. It's disappointing, tough … but, you know, you come back,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said after the game.
Northwestern’s resilience has been well-documented in recent years. The Wildcats have approached NCAA tournament status in the past. But players admit they’ve never felt this close to a bid.
That determination is commendable. The annual conversation about if “this is Northwestern’s year” is a familiar one for fans of any program that’s struggled year after year.
But this can’t be about sympathy. It has to be about quality.
And that means Northwestern -- just 8-12 since mid-December -- is an NIT team.
That might not seem fair to Northwestern or its supporters. But it’s fair to the game and it’s fair to other teams that will prove their worth in the coming days, something the Wildcats didn’t do in their brief stay in the Big Ten tournament.
As I watched Ohio State grab rebound after rebound on Wednesday, it made me think all Northwestern was missing was a big man like Illinois’ Meyers Leonard.
That thought led me to this: If you could assemble one team (starters and bench) from all three of the state’s high-major teams, who would you choose?
Here’s my team:
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Was it too much to ask?
Was it too much to hope that just one time -- this time -- would be Northwestern's turn as fate's chosen beneficiary? Was it too much to think that maybe, despite all the reasons to believe the contrary, the Wildcats might just catch a break? Could Northwestern fans, besieged constantly by reminders of their program's historic futility, finally feel the freedom of belief?
The short answer? No.
"It's very tough," Northwestern guard Drew Crawford said.
"Disappointing," forward John Shurna said. "Kind of a tough way to go out."
Wednesday night was Shurna's senior night, an honor he shared with Davide Curletti, Nick Fruendt and Luka Mirkovic. Shurna & Co. are the school's all-time winningest class, one that also set a school record with three consecutive postseason appearances.
Of course, none of those postseasons has been of the NCAA tournament variety, which is why Wednesday night's game was so much more than a disappointing loss, so much more than an emotional senior night spoiled by a 75-73 defeat.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- A quick rundown of Ohio State's 75-73 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night:
Overview: The script was written. Northwestern didn't have enough size, enough athleticism, enough sheer basketball talent, and Ohio State did. The Wildcats were getting brutalized on the boards, and while their outside shooting kept them in the game, it didn't seem capable of actually pushing them over that last big invisible hump.
And then, suddenly, it did. Northwestern hung in and battled back from double-digit second-half deficits. By the final two minutes, the Wildcats had cut the lead to five, then four, then three, then -- suddenly, miraculously, from 30 or so feet -- Alex Marcotullio sank a game-tying 3 and sent Northwestern's tortured fan base into hysterics.
And then, just as suddenly, the euphoria vanished. Ohio State ran a perfectly designed play with 7 seconds left, leading to a shockingly easy Jared Sullinger layup. John Shurna's last-ditch half-court heave (just barely) missed, and there it was: 75-73, Buckeyes. Northwestern was close. So, so close. But the hump won again.
Star of the game: Jared Sullinger. The Buckeyes big man found life in the middle of Northwestern's zone about as easy as you'd expect. He scored 22 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, 11 of them of the offensive variety. He and Deshaun Thomas (19 points, 10 rebounds) dominated down low, an advantage that for much of the game kept Northwestern at bay.
Stat of the game: 62.5. That's the percentage of its own misses Ohio State grabbed Wednesday night. For reference's sake, the national leader in offensive rebounding percentage (Quinnipiac, believe it or not) grabs about 42 percent of its own misses on average. Again, OSU dominated the offensive glass, and those second-chance points were the key difference.
What it means: It's impossible not to feel, if only a little, for Northwestern. In consecutive weeks, the Wildcats took a top team (first Michigan, then the Buckeyes) to the wire at home, either of which would have given them the marquee win that almost certainly would ensure a first-ever berth in the NCAA tournament. Now, their at-large bid is still shaky, with only one game -- a potential bubble-burster at Iowa on Saturday -- left in the regular season. This is Northwestern's second brutal loss in eight days.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Here’s a quick look at No. 13 Michigan Wolverines 67-55 overtime win over Northwestern Wildcats on Tuesday.
How it happened: Michigan and Northwestern created an instant classic, going big shot for big shot down the stretch on Tuesday. Northwestern’s John Shurna spun in the lane and scored to give the Wildcats a 47-43 lead. Michigan’s Trey Burke answered with a 3-pointer. Shurna came back and drained a shot in the lane while falling to the ground to put Northwestern ahead 49-46. Tim Hardaway Jr. fired back with a 3-pointer to tie the game with 1:36 left. In overtime, though, it was all Michigan. The Wolverines connected on three 3-pointers and shut out Northwestern to go ahead 58-49 during the first three minutes of overtime. The Wolverines scored 42 of their points off 3-pointers, shooting 14 of 37 from deep. Northwestern committed 15 turnovers compared to Michigan’s seven.
What it means: It was another gut-wrenching loss for Northwestern as it attempts to make history by reaching its first NCAA tournament. The Wildcats dropped to 6-9 in the Big Ten and now have to win their final three Big Ten games -- at Penn State Nittany Lions, home vs. Ohio State Buckeyes, at Iowa Hawkeyes -- to go .500 in the conference. The Wildcats have dropped three devastating home conference games -- a one-point loss to Illinois Fighting Illini, a two-point one to Purdue Boilermakers and Tuesday’s overtime defeat. For Michigan, the win kept it in the Big Ten title race. The Wolverines improved to 11-4 in conference.
Player of the game: Burke was only 6-for-16 shooting, but he hit shots when they mattered for the Wolverines. He drained a 3-pointer late in the second half and another key one in overtime. He finished with a game-high 16 points. He also had six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Northwestern player of the game: Reggie Hearn provided another strong performance for the Wildcats. He scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
What’s next: Northwestern travels to Penn State on Saturday. Michigan hosts Purdue on Saturday.
Divided on each baseline bleachers, 600 students in Northwestern’s “Wildside” wore purple t-shirts with Shurna’s No. 24 and his name on their back.
Shurna broke the school’s career record during Saturday’s game over Minnesota Golden Gophers. Shurna scored 18 points in the win to give him a total of 1,902 career points, breaking Billy McKinney’s record of 1,900 points.
“A lot of people do whiteouts, they do blackouts, do purpleouts, you name it,” Northwestern director of marketing Shawn Sullivan said. “You got this player who is unique in his own right, one of the best in the country. We wanted to catapult off his record-setting performance on Saturday.”
Wildside president Alex Wilcox pulled off the historic scoring number on the “Shurna O-Meter” when Shurna set the record on Saturday and was prepared to lead another celebration against Michigan.
“We’re really proud of John,” said Wilcox, a Northwestern junior. “We wanted to do something to really celebrate John. We had a blackout earlier against Michigan State Spartans that worked out really well. We’re hoping Shurnout will have a similar effect against Michigan.”
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Billy McKinney had owned the previous record of 1,900 career points, which was set from 1974-77. Shurna broke the record Saturday with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 10:58 remaining in the second half. It gave him 17 points on the night and 1,901 points for his career. He finished with 18 points.
Shurna had downplayed the record heading into the game.
“I think I’d like to say I’ve never focused on individual goals from the start,” Shurna said on Friday. “It’s not a big deal for me. If I don’t score the rest of the season and we win the rest of the games, I’d be even more happy. I just want to go out there and win games.”
“I think I’d like to say I’ve never focused on individual goals from the start,” Shurna said Friday. “It’s not a big deal for me. If I don’t score the rest of the season and we win the rest of the games, I’d be even more happy. I just want to go out there and win games.”
“Being the leading scorer in school history is a huge accomplishment,” Crawford said. “I think what’s more impressive is that it doesn’t matter to him. He just really cares about the win column.
“I know how Johnny feels about it. He just wants to win. That’s really just shows what kind of teammate he is. He’s a great guy, great teammate. He honestly couldn’t care less about beating the record.”
Either way, the record will likely fall against Minnesota on Saturday. Shurna needs 17 points to surpass all-time leader Billy McKinney’s record of 1,900 points, which was set from 1974-77.
For Shurna, 17 points would be an off-day as of late. In the last five games, Shurna has averaged 25.6 points a game. He’s averaging 20.3 points for the season.
“Johnny definitely does have a killer instinct,” Crawford said. “It just looks different than other people. He just has fun while doing it. The last few games he’s been playing great. It shows it’s really coming out at the end of the season.”
Northwestern coach Bill Carmody doesn’t think the record or the spotlight would get to Shurna come Saturday.
“Generally speaking, I’d say he doesn’t like to be the center of the attention,” Carmody said. “He sort of deflects it a little bit. That’s why he’s such a likeable guy, I think. It won’t affect him once the game starts.”