Three-Headed Monster: The Centers of Northwestern Basketball
WNUR’s Caleigh Ryan explores the unique relationship, both on and off the court, between Northwestern’s three major post players. Veteran Alex Olah is a roommate to newcomer Joey Van Zegeren and a mentor to youngster Dererk Pardon.
Senior center Alex Olah entered the 2015 – 2016 season with high expectations for both himself and his team. After contributing significant minutes over the past three years, the 7-footer would now also be relied upon to fill a leadership role and help graduate transfer Joey Van Zegeren and freshman Dererk Pardon learn the ropes.
Olah finished last season second in the Big Ten averaging 1.8 blocked shots per contest and fifth in the conference with 6.9 rebounds per game. This season’s Wildcats finished non-conference play at a blistering 12 – 1, with Olah averaging a career-high 12.8 points per game through the first 12 non-league games.
Unfortunately, an Olah injury at the end of the non-conference slate forced Van Zegeren into the starting lineup and would-be-redshirt freshman Pardon into the rotation.
“Of course the game was a little bit of an adjustment. It’s more physical than high school, a different speed,” said Pardon.
Despite jumping into the college game earlier than expected, Pardon quickly proved his worth, scoring 28 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in his second college game against Nebraska. The 6-foot-8 freshman averages 21 minutes per game and contributes about 10 points and six rebounds a night.
“The moment I heard he was burning his redshirt to help us, that’s when I realized the kind of person he is,” said Olah.
“Olah and Joey calm me down and are always there for me. It’s not competitive,” said Pardon. “We’re more about supporting each other and doing what’s best for the team.”
In addition to offering advice and sideline tips, the three centers challenge each other constantly in practice.
“Olah is a lot more finesse around the basket. Joey is more brute strength, a very physical player,” said Pardon. “I’m a fine motor guy and try to bring a lot of energy up and down the court.”
Even when he thought that he would earn a redshirt, Pardon was often one of the hardest working and most energetic players during practice, according to teammates. He says that he still has much to learn from his two older mentors.
“They’re like my big brothers. We feed off of each other and play well together,” said Pardon.
“I just want to be a good leader for him. I don’t want him to model me – I want him to be better than me,”Olah said of Pardon. “He should learn from my mistakes and improve.”
Although the little-bro, big-bro dynamic is strong between the trio, the two veterans have their own relationship off the basketball court. As roommates, Olah and Van Zegeren spend a lot of time together.
“We understand each other very well,” said Olah of his relationship with Van Zegeren. “This year I feel like we created a kind of relationship that will last forever. We are kind of alike – it must be a European thing.”
After transferring from Virginia Tech and starting graduate school in Evanston, Van Zegeren was expected to add physicality, athleticism, and experience to the young Wildcat team. He averages 15 minutes per game and contributes about five points and four rebounds per contest.
“Joey is very athletic and long, where he can rebound the ball offensively,” said Olah. “He more goes after those alley-oops.”
Despite bringing different skill sets to the court, the three centers rely on each other to grow and develop. The team will need production from all of them to keep their post-season hopes alive.
“When we enter the game, the other team has to adjust to our style, we create confusion,” said Olah. “We are a three-headed monster right now that looks to dominate every night at the center position.”