SALT LAKE CITY — Northwestern's rise from the bottom of the Big Ten standings to the NCAA tournament had to start somewhere.
Considering the job he's done in four years at the helm of the program, it would make sense to point to the day Chris Collins was hired as head coach.
But ask Collins, and he might say it was the day Vic Law committed to the Wildcats.
The St. Rita product was ranked just outside the top 100 nationally by Rivals back in 2014, and he had offers from perennial tournament teams. But Law instead picked Northwestern, a decision a lot of people didn't understand. But fast forward to now, and Law buying what Collins was selling is a big reason why the Cats are in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
"I can't play anymore. All I can do is stand over in the sideline and call plays and run practices. I needed to find players that believed the way I did," Collins said Wednesday. "And Vic was the first guy, and it was a monumental recruit for us. He was a local product, Chicago kid. He had a perception in the city of being a very good prospect, recruit, was recruited by a lot of top programs. For him to have the courage to say, 'I see something in this coach, I see something in this program,' it really got the ball rolling for us to start what we've been able to build over the last four years."
Law's commitment was a big deal for Collins and Northwestern, the highest-rated recruit the program had ever seen. And the journey of the last three seasons since he arrived on campus has been an even bigger deal for Law. There were folks saying he made a bad call in picking the Cats over others, blasting the program for its non-existent winning history.
But this season has changed all that. Law — along with a roster full of Collins' other recruiting successes — has helped Northwestern to a program-record 23 wins, big wins in the regular season over Wisconsin and Michigan and in the Big Ten Tournament against Maryland, the team's first-ever trip to the conference-tournament semifinals and obviously the program's first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament.
A special season has established Northwestern as a winning program, it's shown that Collins rebuilding effort has resulted in his team's arrival on the scene. But it's done one other thing: It's made Law right.
"'Why would you choose there, a place with no culture, no tradition?'" Law recounted, giving some examples of what people asked him three years ago. "They were saying it was a bad choice, I was just going there because it was close to home.
"But now this year, this is the year that everything’s kind of come into the light. It feels like all my hopes, everything that I knew about this program is finally coming true, finally happening. And when you make all those haters and nonbelievers into followers, it feels really good."
And just like so many of the other storylines involving this Northwestern team, things can only get better. Wednesday, the entire team had the same message, that the Cats aren't satisfied with simply making the NCAA tournament, that they want to win in the NCAA tournament. Law was saying the same thing.
Just like he had a belief that Northwestern could one day reach this spot, he has a belief that there's no limit to what the Cats can do.
"Obviously we came in here to show not just that we can make it but to show we can win games," Law said. "If we win tomorrow, it's just another step in the road for what we're really trying to accomplish, and that's to win the whole thing."