We head to the hardwood for today’s Purple Mafia Profilee, Kevin Coble. Coble, A three-year leading scorer (2007-2010) and rebounder for Northwestern basketball, left the team in late July before his senior season. For many fans, including me, it was a crushing blow to the psyche as Coble was set up to be a potential first team All-Big Ten player on a team that by even the most cynical accounts, was to be our best shot to break the NCAA Tournament drought, considering we had the likes of Juice Thompson, John Shurna and Drew Crawford among others. A disagreement over treatment and recovery for his foot injury, a Lisfranc fracture, which had forced him to redshirt his true senior season, led Coble to opt-out of his redshirt senior season. Today, we reconnect with Kevin in part one of a two part interview series.
I did ask about Kevin’s mom, one of the most well-known moms in NU sports history, as we joked she got minutes of air time than several teammates during his tenure at Northwestern. Her well-documented battle with cancer caused Kevin to make the decision to take a semester off of school to be with her and you’ll be happy to know she has a clean bill of health. Let’s reconnect with Kevin Coble…
LTP: What was your thought when you heard the news that Chris Collins had become the new head basketball coach at Northwestern?
KC: I thought it was great. I think him coming in and having Doug Collins as his dad and being under Coach K for so long, I think he should have some good insights on how to crack what seems to be a recruiting barrier at Northwestern. I know Tavaras (Hardy) has done a good job of getting some Chicago kids to stay, but it’s really going to take a national search to take that jump from an OK B1G team to an elite B1G team.
Being at Duke he’s obviously had to recruit some of the same type of players who have academics and character and those issues that come in to play, so I think he’s going to have some ideas on how to get that done along with the name recognition of having coached with Coach K and his basketball family. I’m excited to see what he can do.
LTP: There is a lot of curiosity about where you’ve been and where you’re going. Can you share the highlights of where you’ve been since you left NU?
KC: I was hurt for my senior year and had the disagreement with Coach Carmody and the medical staff so I didn’t play. It took me about a year and a half to get back to being comfortable and playing. From there I went to Ft. Wayne, Indiana and played in the NBA D-League for about a month and a half to see how my foot would hold up and if I could still play again. I wasn’t sure whether or not I still had it, if my skills were still there.
I enjoyed it and felt like I could still play. I ended up going from there to go overseas and play for a team in Japan thanks to my agent. I was actually playing pick-up at Oregon, where my fiancée was playing volleyball, so anytime I’d go up there Dana Altman was really nice and would let me work out with his guys, and we’d play pick-up too. I was there and one of the coaches who was big over in Asia told me that I should really consider going overseas to play either in Korea or Japan. I started looking in to it and Sendai picked me up. I left in September and got back in late January and I really had a nice time and a great experience. It was something unique that not many people get to do.
LTP: It sounds like you did very well over there. You averaged 13 ppg, but with management changes you are now where?
KC: I came back to Arizona and have been working with AAU teams and doing a lot of lessons and some coaching here. I just found a couple of weeks ago the US Basketball Academy is going on a trip to China to play against several teams including Lithuania, Canada and China and I’ll be a part of that team. It should be really exciting.
LTP: Are you still looking at all options? From the D-League, to overseas or even the ultimate goal, the NBA. Could you lay out the landscape in terms of where your options are?
KC: I honestly thought I was going to be done after Japan. I gave it a shot and the more and more I play, I go through these ebbs and flows of “no, I’m done” and “yes, I can still play”. My fiancée just finished playing professional volleyball down in Puerto Rico and she’s training with the Olympic team now and she’ll end up overseas in October again. So, she is trying to get me to go find a team on that side of the world. At this point, I’d see myself playing in Asia or Japan, if nothing more than the distance between us is something that doesn’t make sense for me to stay here.
LTP: If you are to go back, tell us about the cultural differences of playing there. I have to imagine a 6-8 light-skinned, blonde haired guy sticks out quite a bit. I can’t imagine it’s easy for you to go out and grab a sandwich without getting quite a few stares around town. Describe what it’s like for you there.
KC: I always joke with people that if we did the same thing here we’d get locked up if we went up to an Asian or Japanese person to the point where you put a camera in their face. However, they couldn’t have been any nicer – they wanted to meet you, talk to you, and work on their English. They’d work hard to speak to me in English and very much want to help me learn to say things in Japanese. Everything that you may see online or in our culture that stereotypes some of the things Japanese do – they bow, they’re clean, their pride – I found it to be true. One of the most remarkable things I found was that there were no trash cans anywhere, yet there wasn’t any trash on the ground anywhere to be seen. It was surreal. At times it felt like you were walking through Disneyworld, because it just didn’t seem real.
LTP: I realize you’ve been bouncing around the globe a bit, but how much do you keep in check on Northwestern basketball?
KC: It was hard when I was gone. I watched Johnny’s (Shurna) last year when I thought they had a chance to make it (the first ever NCAA Tournament appearance) and then it became clear they weren’t going to do it. I’d send an email once in a while back and forth to Dr. Phillips to see how he was doing, but for the most part I still feel it’s a bit of a raw subject, especially for the fans as it relates to my leaving. The fans are the ones that I feel the worst for because I feel they are the least informed on what happened, yet they care the most. They got information second, third, fourth hand, and that bothers me. One thing is eventually I’d like to be able to come back there. Maybe now that Coach Carmody is no longer there, maybe that is more of a possibility. I’d love to reconnect with Northwestern basketball and all of them. I saw they brought Pat Baldwin, which is great and at some point I’d love to get back there and do what I can to help them make the NCAA Tournament.
LTP: Fans have been puzzled for years over what actually happened surrounding your departure from the team in 2010. What happened?
KC: For the most part it just came down to a disagreement between myself, Coach Carmody and the team doctors. I had my surgeon’s recommendation and the team doctor had his and we weren’t on the same page. We can just leave it at that.
LTP: Obviously, that wasn’t likely the way you drew up how you’d leave Northwestern. Now that you’ve had a few years under your belt, what is the sentiment that pops in to your head when you either hear the name “Northwestern” or see them playing on TV?
KC: Well, you have to make a distinction between the organization and individuals. Clearly, there was strain between Coach Carmody and myself, because we both put so much in to wanting to make the program successful and to have it end the way it did, well, it’s painful.
As a whole, though, I couldn’t ask for a better experience. I got to play in the Big Ten and graduate from one of the best schools in the country. If you take a global level approach to my experience, it was a 10 out of 10. It’s important that people know that I do have a distinction between the great experience I had as a student and that I’m able to differentiate my great experience from a disagreement.
LTP: I remember being crestfallen as a fan when the announcement was made that you wouldn’t be coming back in 2010. As a fan, that was going to be THE year with you, Shurna, and Juice leading the way. However, one thing that always stood out to me was the fact you remained in school on campus. What was it like being on campus as a student that fall while basketball was going on? How did the students treat you and what was going through your head on a daily basis?
KC: I had structured my classes to graduate in December so I was really gone before basketball got in to full swing. Once I shared what happened with friends and other students as to what happened they couldn’t have been any better. I tried to explain things as best I could because I didn’t want people to think I was eccentric or even crazy!
LTP: At the time you left, there were interviews with your former teammates about your relationship with them. Some, you might say, even painted you as beating to your own drum. What was your relationship like then with your teammates and what is it like now?
KC: I’m more of a guy that is going to be the first to show up, last to leave kind of guys. I was never the kind of guy that wanted to hang out late night or even go out all that much. I was dating a girl at the time who was similar in that regard as well. I’m a private person and I keep a tight group of close friends. I wanted to always be there as a teammate and I knew that leaving was going to put them in a really tough spot. I respect all of them. In terms of a group of guys, you couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to play basketball with. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to be around.
LTP: Do you find yourself going back and saying “what if?”
KC: A little bit, but not much. Anytime you play the “what if?” game there is always a flip side to it. How would the feelings and emotions Coach Carmody and I had, how would’ve that affected the team through the season? So, I try not to go down the road of the alternate reality game as you just don’t know how that other door would have unfolded.
LTP: For me, when I hear the name “Kevin Coble” one game and one moment sticks out more than any other. The road win at Michigan State when you were playing out of your mind, along with Craig Moore’s bombs down the stretch. In particular, the turnaround bank shot is the single moment that I associate with you as a player. What positive moments stick out for you in the memory banks?
KC: That was an incredible basketball game. I feel that game could be played in 20 years and people would huddle around and watch it. A lot of what sticks out to me is other people’s shots. I remember vividly Ivan hitting a jump shot right at the buzzer for the half from the left wing. I remember Luka with a huge turnaround jumper right in front of our bench. I also remember Michael Thompson hitting a three with his foot on the state of Michigan logo that was about 26 or 27 feet out. Of course, Craig found his rhythm in that game after a tough first half, but yes, I do remember the turnaround bank shot over Travis Walton as it was one of those nail in the coffin type shots in a game. Just a lot of things went right that night.