Last year, Northwestern's men's basketball program went through some major changes while guard Drew Crawford was recovering from surgery to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder.
In March, Bill Carmody was fired after 13 seasons as head coach, primarily for failing to guide the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
Less than two weeks later, longtime Duke assistant and former Glenbrook North High School star Chris Collins came back home to replace Carmody.
Quickly showing he can overcome the real and perceived obstacles with recruiting, Collins landed a commitment from the most promising high school player in NU history -- St. Rita star Vic Law.
There has been growing speculation that NU's home court, Welsh-Ryan Arena, is close to undergoing some much-needed renovation, likely right after the 2013-14 season is in the books.
Now four games into the present year, Crawford isn't looking back and he isn't looking ahead. The fifth-year senior is just trying to enjoy every moment of his final season with the Wildcats after playing just 10 games last year.
After receiving an extra year of eligibility as a medical hardship, Crawford could have transferred and played at a more established basketball school with a realistic chance of experiencing March Madness.
Instead, the former Naperville Central standout couldn't wait to put the purple back on.
"I was always pretty sure I was coming back to Northwestern," said Crawford, who is leading NU in scoring this year (17.8 points per game heading into Friday night's contest). "This is where my heart is and this is the program I really care about. I love coach Collins and the whole coaching staff and my teammates. I just love the whole athletic program and the university. This is where my heart is, and this is where I wanted to be."
Unable to play any type of basketball for five months after having surgery, Crawford got back on the court in the summer, playing in the Nike/Jordan Chi-League.
"I played in summer league games there and worked out a lot," Crawford said. "Individual workouts and working out with my teammates, playing one-on-one with them. I was doing a lot of things to help me get my game back."
While it's not all the way back yet, Crawford has given Collins a battle-tested talent to utilize in his first year on the bench in Evanston. Along with junior guard Dave Sobolewski, who is also from Naperville and a Benet Academy product, Crawford is a co-captain for Northwestern.
"Having Drew back is huge," Collins said after the Wildcats rolled over UIC 93-58 Wednesday night at the Pavilion. "Drew and I have a great bond. He's the leader of our team. He's playing like a man and that's what we need him to do. Play like an older guy."
While Sobolewski was scoring a career-high 25 points in the win over UIC, Crawford seemingly got off to a sluggish start.
"It was a perfect example of the type of player Drew is," Collins said. "We were playing really well and instead of him forcing the issue to get his stuff going, he just kind of let the game come to him. And as the game opened up, he ended up with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5-of-8 shooting and had a tremendous game. His presence, just as an older guy, is huge for our team this year."
Crawford is thrilled to be back and he is still NU's best player despite the long layoff. But he is not completely satisfied.
"The doctors did a great job with my surgery and my rehab process has been great at Northwestern," said Crawford, whose is the son of veteran NBA referee Danny Crawford. "The athletic training staff has really helped me out. My shoulder was feeling good a while ago, but it took more time for me to get my legs back, get the rhythm of my game back. My shoulder's been good for a while, but I've been struggling to get my game back and I feel like I'm finally getting there."