Road to glory not always easy for Northwestern’s Scottie Lindsey

Photo at top: Scottie Lindsey watching the NCAA Tournament selection show March 12, 2017, at Welsh-Ryan Arena

By Astasia Williams

SALT LAKE CITY – Scott “Scottie” Lindsey has helped Northwestern men’s basketball write the most important chapter in program history. But Lindsey’s own story hasn’t always been a fairy tale.

The Hillside, Illinois, native was a three-star recruit from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois. Now he’s an All-Big Ten player and a weapon who can destroy any opposing defense with his reverse layups or smooth 3-point shot. Going from wildcard underclassman to second leading scorer for the Wildcats’ first-ever NCAA Tournament team, things have gone uphill for Lindsey. But adversity almost prematurely ended his magical season when he came down with mononucleosis during Big Ten play.

“Scott’s transformation has been a whirlwind,” Northwestern junior guard Bryant McIntosh said. “Just the growth and maturity he’s shown from his freshmen year to now, his attitude and just being a teammate has been great. I’m happy he did it because it’s the reason for all of his success this season.”

As a young player, the 6-foot-5 Lindsey went through growing pains with inconsistent play and not performing up to his potential. After last season, he received a challenge from head coach Chris Collins after averaging only six points a game.

“He didn’t think I was playing up to my ability my first two years,” Lindsey said this week. “And quite frankly he was tired of it. So he just challenged me. It was time for me to step up and be the player I worked so hard to be. From that day on, I changed my work ethic and got in the gym much more. And it’s paid off.”

Northwestern coach Chris Collins and Scottie Lindsey share a hug after beating Vanderbilt 68-66 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (photo by Northwestern Athletics.)

Lindsey began showing just how valuable he is to the Northwestern basketball program. He recorded 20 straight games of double-figure scoring to start the season, including a career-high 31 points against Penn State in Northwestern’s Big Ten opener. His playing time doubled from 15 to 30 minutes a game. His 6-point-per-game average turned to 14.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Not only is he an offensive threat, but his defense has emerged, as he guards some of the best opposing perimeter shooters.

The Wildcats had to learn what it would be like not having their extra scoring boost on the floor after Lindsey missed four games in the middle of conference play. Coming off of a six-game win streak and getting its first AP Poll ranking since 2009, Northwestern was on a high, only to learn it would be without its top scorer. During Lindsey’s absence, the Wildcats lost three out of the four games, including a somewhat stunning home defeat to Illinois.

During the stretch, Northwestern’s secondary and much-younger lineup was exposed for the lack of depth and experience.

“He brings a lot to the game,” redshirt sophomore forward Vic Law said. “That’s why you have a team. When one person goes down, everyone else has to step up. When Scott went down, the team had to rally yet again [starting center Dererk Pardon missed eight games earlier in the season with a hand injury]. It was a little tougher when Scott went down because it was a tougher stretch of games. We still rallied around each other in the process.”

Lindsey is familiar with sitting out during crucial points of the season. During an unofficial visit to Vanderbilt his senior year, Lindsey broke his leg in a pickup game. Vanderbilt still offered him a scholarship, but Lindsey wound up telling Collins he would join the Wildcats squad. On Thursday, Lindsey dropped 14 points against Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as Northwestern won its tournament debut 68-66 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

“It was a tough time because I didn’t feel as bad as my diagnosis,” Lindsey said. “I just had to sit out and wait until it was my time. Obviously I wanted to be back out there and my coaches wanted me out there but I just had to wait. I had to find a way to help my teammates get the wins that they did. I just had to make sure my teammates could see me and hear my voice in the huddles.”

During the highs and lows, one voice in Lindsey’s ear that stayed consistent. Assistant coach Patrick Baldwin is a Northwestern graduate who played guard on the basketball team. Baldwin primarily works with the Wildcats’ guards, and he has had a front-row seat for Lindsey’s transformation.

Northwestern assistant coaches Patrick Baldwin (right) and Brian James watching the NCAA Tournament selection show March 12, 2017, at Welsh-Ryan Arena. (photo by Astasia Williams/MEDILL)

“It’s almost like night and day,” Baldwin said. “There’s still some areas he has to improve on. But just to transform from a kid at sometimes resistant to coaching, he’s so eager to do things on his own. I like that about him, but sometimes he needs someone to help him. I believe this year he has allowed us, as coaches, to help him get him to the point he is at today.”

Lindsey was one of Collins’ first three recruits at Northwestern. His freshman year, the Wildcats went 14-19 (6-12 in Big Ten play) and couldn’t win a game in the Big Ten tournament. This year, they reached the semifinals after falling to Wisconsin. Now they are on their way to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“This is so much better than what we expected,” Lindsey said. “But this was also one of our goals. Not only to get to the tournament, but also win a game.”

Photo at top: Scottie Lindsey watching the NCAA Tournament selection show March 12, 2017, at Welsh-Ryan Arena. (Astasia Williams/MEDILL)