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Wildcats mascot, Willie, ham's it up for ESPN camera during a break in game action during a Big Ten game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Northwestern Wildcats in Welsh-Ryan Arena, in Evanston, Il Photographer: Warren Wimmer/Icon Sportswire

Anthony Gaines gets Northwestern back on the right track

(Warren Wimmer/Icon Sportswire)

Since Chris Collins became the head coach at Northwestern in 2013, the staff has been trying to re-characterize the program. After decades of mediocrity and lackluster seasons, fans hoped that things would be different with Collins at the helm.

In some ways, they ended up being right.

Although Collins and Northwestern limped out to a putrid 7-9 start in his first year with the program, things have generally been trending up ever since. The team has increased its win total from 14 to 20 in the last three years and rose from No. 131 to No. 78 per KenPom’s ratings.

Recruiting wasn’t bad either.

Despite years of settling for the scraps of the college basketball recruiting world, Northwestern finally found its stride. Not only did the Wildcats land a legitimate four-star prospect in Vic Law in its 2014 class, but the team got another in 2015 with Aaron Falzon and highly sought after recruits in Barret Benson and Rapolas Ivanasukas in the program’s 2016 class.

Maybe Northwestern wasn’t recruiting well enough to compete with Duke or Kentucky, but for a program that’s never made the NCAA Tournament, it was a shot in the arm for the fans. If anything, it at least got some real energy going in Evanston.

Unfortunately, the energy from a new coaching staff can only last for so long. Unless the team starts winning, the glimmer of a new face on the bench will only keep recruits and fans buying in for so long. And as Northwestern began to recruit in 2017, many worried that the luster of Collins and his staff was finally starting to wear off.

But that narrative changed on Tuesday.

Though fans and Northwestern sites were starting to express real concern about how the Wildcats would close on its 2017 targets, the program got some huge news. Anthony Gaines committed to Northwestern and instantly changed the storyline.

As a three-star prospect, Gaines probably isn’t going to turn heads nationally, but he’s a very legitimate prospect that’s gotten plenty of attention on the recruiting trail. According to 247Sports, he’s rated as the No. 3 player in New Hampshire and had offers from programs including Butler, Cincinnati, Dayton and Northeastern, among others.

Gaines probably won’t make a huge splash as a freshman given some of Northwestern’s anticipated returning depth, but he has a nice skill set that should translate to the college level. He can attack with the ball in his hands and has enough speed to play in transition. As he develops, he should only get better playing inside and around the rim.

 

However, even though Gaines is a solid prospect in his own right, it’s what he can offer to the class and Northwestern going forward that’s really beneficial. Collins now has someone to sell to the rest of the team’s 2017 targets and, in theory, should have a better shot at closing on some other commitments. If so, he should be able to continue Northwestern’s recruiting resurgence.

Collins has done a nice job recruiting for Northwestern over the last few years and maintaining that is imperative to the success of the program. If the Wildcats are ever going to reach that next level, it’s pulling in players like Law, Falzon and Gaines that will get it done.

It’s difficult to anticipate just how Northwestern’s 2017 recruiting will finish or how good Gaines can be at the next level, but for Wildcat fans everywhere, it looks like things are back on the right track for the time being.

Anthony Gaines gets Northwestern back on the right track

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