As Nathan Fenno related in The Washington Times last Wednesday, Luke Donald, the world’s top-ranked golfer, won the NCAA title at Northwestern in 1999 and still works with his old college coach, Pat Goss.
That ties in, rather entertainingly, with a piece by David Haugh that ran in the Chicago Tribune two days earlier. According to Haugh, David Kaplan, a WGN broadcaster, was in San Antonio for the 1998 men’s Final Four when he saw this 6-foot-11 kid draining three-pointers in a high school gym one morning. As it turned out, it was 19-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, who was in town with his German basketball team for a Final Four-related event.
Kaplan, who had never heard of Nowitzki, was mightily impressed. So much so that he called his buddy, then-Northwestern coach Kevin O’Neill, and said, basically, “I think I’ve found the big man you’re looking for.”
“Kap … want[ed] permission to offer him a scholarship for Northwestern on the spot,” O’Neill told Haugh. “I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me … but OK.’”
Kaplan made his pitch to Nowitzki, pointing out that Chicago has a large German population. Dirk was receptive. Playing some college ball in the states, he said, might help his NBA prospects.
“He told me, ‘Sounds great. I’d love to set up a visit,’” Kaplan said. “Then everybody saw him play, and there was no doubt he was going pro.”
That June, the Bucks took Nowitzki ninth in the NBA draft, then traded him to the Mavericks (along with another first-rounder, forward Pat Garrity) for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The rest, as they say, is history.
Anyway, just think: Northwestern, which isn’t exactly synonymous with golf and basketball – it has never played in the NCAA tournament, for instance – could have had Luke Donald and Dirk Nowitzki, the NBA Finals MVP, on campus at the same time.
(Much thanks to my son Danny, the erstwhile Northwestern student, for noticing this with his eagle eyes.)