Miller Kopp has sat in the locker room 47 times prepping for game day at the Welsh Ryan Arena.
He will repeat his pregame routine once again for the 48th time at the Wildcats’ home venue. However, it will be in the visitor’s locker room this time. And instead, of slipping on a White and Purple jersey, he will be donning a cream and crimson jersey for the Hoosiers.
Unable to fully express the feeling of the reunion, the senior forward landed on one word.
“It is something that’s just gonna be weird I think,” reflected Kopp.
“I spent three years of my life with probably some of the most transformative years of my life as a young man, as a basketball player. And, just to be back there as a Hoosier is just weird. If you would’ve told me when I was in high school when I committed to Northwestern, that I’d be a senior in college but I’d be playing at Northwestern as an Indiana Hoosier, I’d tell you you’re crazy.”
The Houston, Texas native was rated as a four-star recruit coming out of high school. Big named basketball programs, such as Butler, Georgetown, Miami, and of course Houston, were showing interest in the sharpshooter. However, Kopp chose the program that just made school history with their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017 under Chris Collins.
During his time in Evanston, Ill. the Wildcats failed to return to the big dance. In three seasons, they held a 30-57 record. At one point during the 2020-21 season, Northwestern was ranked No. 19 nationally– after wins against No. 4 Michigan St. and No. 23 Ohio St.– before losing 13 straight games.
However, Kopp was one of the bright spots of the three miserable seasons. In his Northwestern career, he averaged 9.6 points per game and cashed in 122 three-pointers on 36 percent shooting from deep. In his sophomore season, he managed to lead the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game.
For Kopp, he has had the homecoming marked on his calendar since the Big Ten schedule was released.
“It’s something I’ve definitely been thinking about since we started league play really, but obviously I’ve been focusing on every game,” said the former Wildcat.
Since coming to the Hoosiers, Kopp has struggled to find open shots. He is averaging just 6.2 points per game but is shooting 38.7 percent from deep. However, he hasn’t had a double-digit game since Nov. 30 against Syracuse. In that game, Kopp torched the Orange for 28 points with four three-pointers.
In the last game against No. 18 Illinois, he made an impact early with his defense, managing to get a steal and an assist, but Kopp didn’t attempt a shot all game.
Still, his presence and leadership around the program have been beneficial, especially for the younger players.
“He’s a great teammate. I love playing with him, I love having him around, he’s a great locker room guy,” Trey Galloway said on Monday of Kopp.
“Out on the court, he’s always setting the right example. He brings it every day in practice, which is great. He doesn’t take days off. He’s always in the gym or getting shots up. It’s nice to have teammates like that because when you see them in the gym, you want to get in the gym with them. He’s a great addition to our team.”
Despite playing for another team, he has still kept in touch with many of his old teammates. He mostly talks with his former roommates, Ryan Greer and Pete Nance. The trio was a part of the 2018 recruiting class that ranked No. 34 nationally.
Nance– the brother of Portland Trailblazers forward Larry Nance Jr. and son of three-time NBA All-Star Larry Nance Sr.– was Kopp’s roommate for all three seasons during his time in Evanston.
“I talk to them really every day,” Kopp said. “We talk about just basketball, about the league, about the games and stuff, so you know I watch their games and they watch mine.
“So, it’ll be cool to go back and see them and get a win there too, so it’ll be fun,” said a grinning Kopp.
For the Hoosiers to win, they need to slow down a Northwestern offense that ranks No. 74 nationally in points per game with a 75.9 average. They don’t play particularly fast and have an adjusted tempo rating of 67.6, per KenPom.com, but they play smart and average single-digit turnovers per game.
The main threats for Northwestern are Boo Buie and Nance. They are the main focus of the offense and lead the team in scoring, both average around 15 points per game.
It was the Buie show, however, in the Wildcats win over Nebraska on Saturday. The junior guard poured in 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting and three assists.
“They’re tricky. They’ve got a lot of good sets, a lot of things they do well on the offensive end,” Galloway said.
“And, I think it’s just our preparation and us just being able to watch film and study what they do and their tendencies. That’s one thing we got to focus on and do a lot better is being able to all lock in on a scout and know the things that they do and prepare well for them.”
Tuesday night will be a rollercoaster of emotions for Kopp. Not only can he secure bragging rights over his old teammates and friends, but it would also be a bounce-back win for the Hoosiers.
“You know it’s definitely going to be super exciting to go back there and see some old friends and old teammates and stuff but really I just want to win,” said Kopp.
“That’s really all I care about but overall it’s just gonna be weird. I don’t really know how to explain or I don’t really know what to expect just emotions-wise.”
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