By Paul M. Banks
When Northwestern’s star forward Kevin Coble went down for the season with a foot injury, someone needed to step up. That someone is turning out to be two people: Juice Thompson and John Shurna. With Juice running the point, and Shurna scoring both inside and outside at will, this team certainly has “juice” (slang for power, respect, notoriety) now.
They’re 5-1 with some quality wins on their resume. Rick Majerus told me yesterday he thinks ISU could compete with Kansas for the Big 12 title. And Northwestern beat them. Iowa State’s Craig Brackins, a potential NBA lottery pick, played with Shurna for Team USA last summer. Yesterday Shurna was telling me how much he was impressed by Brackins, today Brackins returned the favor. “We scrimmaged the Under-19 team there, so I knew how good he was, and what a great a shooter he was,” Brackins said.
NU Head Coach Bill Carmody extolled the virtues of Shurna’s development in the post-game presser. And when a reporter asked if Shurna might start to develop a big head after scoring 23 and 25 points on back-to-back nights against top notch competition, Coach had a candid and unique reply. “No, he’s such a humble kid. It’s hard to get that kid to be confident. You know that guy, he looks like he’s 14 years old. He’s a little goofy, God bless him.”
And while Shurna was the best player on the floor this Thanksgiving weekend. The most valuable player was probably Thompson. Some people call him Juice, some people call him Michael. The junior point guard entered this game as the Cats leading scorer and floor general.
“To my peers and my teammates, it’s Juice, but Coach Carmody doesn’t call me that unless I make a mistake, other than that he calls me Mike or Thompson.
Juice said he learned a lot from Craig Moore, last year’s starting two guard, who broke pretty much every school three point record imaginable, and was the the unquestioned leader of the team.
“Craig was a feisty guy, he was always on top of guys, and some guys you can get through to them that way. So being a leader I’m just trying to figure out who I can get through to in that way, and who I need to talk to in just a calm manner and try to get them to work harder,” Thompson replied. Thompson also told me about his “Juice” tattoo on his right shoulder. “This is my trademark there, I got to get that copyrighted.”
Juice has evolved into this team’s floor general and I asked him what that term means to him “A coach on the court someone who knows the offense inside and out, and knows what everyone needs to do, and every thing that the coach wants him to do. I have a feel for what Coach Carmody wants me to run at certain times. He pretty much wants me to call plays on my own,” Juice replied.
Thompson sure sounded like a Coach when I asked him how they upset Notre Dame and stopped the most highly heralded player in the nation last night. “We watched a lot of film, we pretty much knew what we had to do, our coaches wanted us to focus on Harangody, and close out on the shooters with our 1-3-1. With Harangody we were trying to double him as much as we could. But with our 1-3-1 he wasn’t under the basket as much as he can be, and that’s where he’s most effective. With Hansbrough we tried to close out on him and be there right on the catch and I think we did a great job of that.”