EVANSTON, Ill. — Dererk Pardon hit the biggest shot in the history of Northwestern basketball last March when his layup at the buzzer against Michigan clinched the Wildcats’ first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The finish at the rim by the left-handed big man was part of countless highlight videos and will forever be etched in stone as the point in time when Northwestern finally turned a corner as a basketball program.
But all of that is now in the past as the Wildcats aim to build on their hardwood renaissance. For Pardon, it could very well just be a snapshot of better things to come.
“He has emerged,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said of Pardon on Tuesday. “Dererk is a guy that’s been undervalued his entire career. When he was in high school, he played on the same team as Carlton Bragg and he barely got any attention. He’s such a hard worker. I think he has the ability to be a real threat on the offensive end of the floor.”
That’s specifically what stood out at Tuesday’s practice.
After averaging 8.6 points and 8.0 rebounds last season as a sophomore, the 6-foot-8 junior showed a newfound confidence in his face up game, regularly taking and making 3-point shots. Pardon didn’t attempt a single 3-point shot during all of last year.
“I feel like we’ve got a fourth guy now to go with Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, and Vic Law,” Collins said of Pardon. “We’ve got a guy we can throw the ball to in the low post. Last year, all of Dererk’s offense really came off McIntosh’s penetration. That’s not going to be the case anymore. We feel like we’ve got someone who can be one of the premier big men in the Big Ten.”
If that happens, Northwestern will be in position to be the conference’s best team not named Michigan State.
Collins has the majority of his nucleus back from last year’s squad that won 24 games and advanced to the Round of 32 before losing to Gonzaga. He also adds a long-distance threat in stretch power forward Aaron Falzon, who missed last season due to a knee injury.
“What we did last year was great, but there’s more to do,” Collins said. “Everyone here is hungry for more.”
If Pardon plays the way he’s played so far in the preseason, that hunger has a real chance to be satisfied.
Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.