When Northwestern fans aren't busy heckling Illinois coach Bruce Weber on Saturday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, they might want to take a moment to thank him.
It was Weber, in his role as the Midwest representative on USA Basketball's Junior National committee, who recommended John Shurna receive an invite to the national U-19 trials last summer.
Weber put Northwestern's sophomore forward on his ballot when the committee (which includes Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, North Carolina's Roy Williams and Washington's Lorenzo Romar) met at the Final Four.
Once Shurna reached the tryouts at Colorado Springs, the nation's creme de la creme received a sneak peek of what has become the Glen Ellyn native's breakout season.
"He earned the spot," Weber said. "He played real well there. (Purdue coach) Matt Painter was one of the assistants and I just remember Matt, each day when we'd have meetings, he'd say, 'Man, Shurna just keeps impressing people.'
"I think that was a big confidence builder for him."
Apparently so. Shurna enters Saturday's home game against Illinois as the Big Ten's No. 5 scorer (17.1 ppg) and No. 6 rebounder (6.9 rpg).
Though it would be incorrect to claim Shurna's international basketball experience revolutionized his game - he averaged 6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per game in New Zealand - he couldn't help fine-tuning his skills while battling the world's best and brightest.
"Obviously, outside looking in, you get to see all of these great players," Shurna said. "And when you're playing against them, you get to see what works.
"Sometimes when you're playing against lesser competition, you don't know if some moves work. But when you're going against the best guys you kind of feel like, 'Wow, if this can work against them, then it can probably work in other situations.' "
Shurna's strength, as every coach acknowledges, is his versatility. On one possession, he'll pop a 3-pointer. On the next possession, Northwestern will run a set that allows the 6-foot-8 Shurna to get into the post and exploit a size mismatch there.
"It's just his craftiness," said Texas-Pan American coach Ryan Marks. "When they cut and dive and seal you, his footwork is great. He's really good when they do their dribble-handoff action. He's great at just stopping right behind the handoff and making it hard for you to get out there and take away the 3s.
"He does so many little things. From a coaching standpoint, you look at him on film and appreciate what he does. He does things on the court that a guy much older than a sophomore does."
Weber suggested the baby-faced Shurna has "a little orneriness" to his game. Redshirting Northwestern senior Kevin Coble doesn't know about that. In fact, he thinks the wiry, long-limbed Shurna projects the opposite image.
"Most people can relate to this," Coble said. "You've seen those inflatable contraptions out in front of restaurants for grand openings? That's the best way I can describe him.
"His limbs aren't quite attached. It's like running through a car wash with him out there. I think it gives him a huge advantage. He's long, he gets in there and he's unconventional in a lot of the ways that he shoots.
"When he gets into the post, he's got a quick release and he's able to score on bigger guys. He's just kind of figured out little knacks - little subversive techniques that work for him."
Does Weber wish he hadn't given Shurna a tiny nudge on his way to stardom?
"No," Weber said. "It's good for the kid. He deserves it."
Of the 12 players on the USA Basketball team that went undefeated and won the gold medal in July at the FIBA U19 World Championship in New Zealand, Northwestern's John Shurna averaged the fewest minutes per game but might have reaped the greatest gain. Here's how he and his teammates are faring this season:
|Klay Thompson||Washington State||22.9 ppg||5.1 rpg||44 3-pointers|
|John Shurna||Northwestern||17.1 ppg||6.9 rpg||31 3-pointers|
|Ashton Gibbs||Pittsburgh||16.9 ppg||2.3 apg||44 3-pointers|
|Trey Thompkins||Georgia||16.7 ppg||8.1 rpg||1.3 blocks pg|
|Gordon Hayward||Butler||15.8 ppg||8.4 rpg||29 3-pointers|
|Shelvin Mack||Butler||15.5 ppg||3.2 apg||36 3-pointers|
|Arnett Moultrie||UTEP||12.3 ppg||7.1 rpg||1.8 steals pg|
|DeAngelo Casto||Washington State||10.4 ppg||7.3 rpg||2.1 blocks pg|
|Darius Miller||Kentucky||7.3 ppg||2.7 rpg||27 3-pointers|
|Tyshawn Taylor||Kansas||6.9 ppg||3.8 apg||1.1 steals pg|
|Terrico White||Mississippi||15.9 ppg||4.3 rpg||35 3-pointers|
*Seth Curry, Duke (sitting out after transferring from Liberty)