March 17, 2013 was an important day in Northwestern basketball history. Although now, it may be overshadowed by the day of “The Play”, Selection Sunday, and Northwestern’s first NCAA Tournament win, the program wouldn’t have had the success it had this season or these past four years without it.
On March 17, 2013, Jim Phillips, the Director of Athletics at Northwestern drove down to Pekin, Illinois to meet with Northwestern commit Nathan Taphorn. Phillips visited Taphorn and his family at their home to talk about the changes in the program.
The coaching staff that recruited Taphorn was no longer going to be there when he arrived on campus in the summer. Nathan Taphorn had a decision to make: to honor his commitment to the program, or to request a release from his National Letter if Intent.
Taphorn decided to honor his commitment. He arrived at Northwestern with the new coaching staff and began his college basketball career. Little did he know, four years later, he would be spending the day with Phillips again.
Four years later, on March 17, 2017, Nathan Taphorn was with Jim Phillips again. This time, when they were together, they weren’t in Pekin, Illinois. They were in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Wildcats were playing in their first NCAA Tournament game in program history.
Nathan Taphorn was the first piece of the puzzle.
Sanjay Lumpkin’s story is a little different. When Collins arrived at Northwestern, he was redshirting due to injury. He had the opportunity to transfer to another institution to continue his basketball career when the coaching change was announced. Like Taphorn, he stayed true to his commitment and stayed at Northwestern.
During Lumpkin’s redshirt year, he sat on the bench and cheered his team on from the sidelines. Little did he know, five years later, he would be the star player on the court receiving loud cheers from his teammates on the sidelines as he steered his team to their first NCAA Tournament.
Sanjay Lumpkin was the second piece of the puzzle.
Two players. Two pieces of the puzzle. Two commitments. Two Seniors. Two Believers. That’s how Chris Collins started his basketball coaching career at Northwestern. When he began his journey as head coach four years ago, he asked his players and recruits to believe in him, in the vision he had for the program, and in the success the team could have. Nathan Taphorn and Sanjay Lumpkin believed.
In four years, the two saw the culture of Northwestern Basketball change for the better. While their college careers in purple and white ended in a heartbreaking loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, their names will be remembered in Northwestern history for years to come.
Nathan Taphorn had many ups and downs in his college career. The three-point shooting specialist made many memorable shots in his career, but also missed some heartbreaking shots in his career. Arguably, the shot that could have been the game-winner against Michigan in the 2016 Big Ten Tournament was one of the most crushing losses he felt.
But even after that, Taphorn’s confidence rose again. He had a decision to make in the final weeks of his Northwestern career. He could go out being just another player on another Northwestern team that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament or he could be a player that everyone would remember. Taphorn wanted to be a player that everyone would remember, and he saw his dreams come true right before his eyes.
He finishes his Northwestern career known as the player who made “The Pass” that sent Northwestern to March Madness for the first time in program history. All the tough times he faced in his college career were matched with the most important play in Northwestern history. He may be leaving Northwestern, but on Selection Sunday, he was able to put the final weeks of his Northwestern career in to perspective.
“You always dream of moments like this, these past couple of weeks,” said Taphorn. “Somebody told me today, ‘this is the best time of your life.’ I hope it is, but then again I hope it’s not so I have better times in my life. Then again, that’s hard to top.”
Nathan Taphorn will always be remembered.
Sanjay Lumpkin had a different four years at Northwestern. He has always been known as “the glue guy”- the piece that holds the team together. Whether that meant hitting a three-point shot so Northwestern could win a game, playing gritty defense on the wing, breaking an opposing player’s ankles on a layup in the paint, or simply being a leader on the team; Lumpkin held Northwestern together this year.
Lumpkin may leave Northwestern with statistics that don’t jump off the page, but he is leaving Northwestern after achieving the goal he’d hope to all of his five years at Northwestern: he was captain of the team the year Northwestern punched their first ticket to the NCAA Tournament. His defense, leadership and presence on the court will be missed, but his legacy will live on.
Chris Collins told his team before the season started he wanted to take this group to the NCAA Tournament. This team had 14 players on it, two of those players were there before he arrived. Those two players believed in a rookie coach. Those two players set the foundation for a program that has been forever changed. Those two players lead Northwestern to a historical season. Those two players helped change the culture of Northwestern basketball in their college careers.
Those two players were Nathan Taphorn and Sanjay Lumpkin.
Those two players will never be forgotten.