I was a student at Northwestern when, on January 9th, 1999, the Wildcat men’s basketball team rolled into Champaign, Illinois and dominated the Fighting Illini 59-46 to go to 9-3 on the season. That particular NU squad was led by All-America center Evan Eschmeyer, who was a terrific college player but a poor man’s Marcin Gortat in the NBA (which didn’t prevent Mark Cuban from throwing $20 million at him to suffer a career-ending injury and become a lawyer).
It had all the makings of a magical year in Evanston. At one point the ‘Cats were 14-6 and receiving votes in the major polls, which was a huge development for a school that had never played in the NCAA Tournament. Yet still, outside of Eschmeyer, anyone connected to the hoops program could walk through town without causing much of a stir. That was especially true of coach Kevin O’Neill, who is back in the news after being hired this past weekend to clean up whatever mess USC is eventually going to find itself in. O’Neill was quite fond of the local drinking establishments — perhaps a bit too fond. And it may have derailed Northwestern’s shot at history.