Northwestern's Boo Buie went through defeat and disappointment

All-Big Ten guard Boo Buie pulled out of the NBA draft this week and told the world he would return to Northwestern for his No. 1 season. 5 as a Wildcat.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

What the heck was he thinking?

In these Wild West college sports days, Buie just might be able to take his extraordinary talent anywhere. Could get a taste of life in one of basketball's blue bloods, perhaps, or find a destination closer to his home in Albany, NY, or close his eyes and throw a dart at the map.

The bottom line is: Isn't everyone going everywhere else nowadays?

It must be exhausting trying to keep up with it all. Maybe that's what makes Buie living in Northwestern such a treat.

“I'm very loyal,” he said Tuesday after team practice at the Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The six-figure NIL money has a sound in it, too, one can only assume. But Buie's ties to Northwestern also run deep.

“I was here before the NIL,” he said, “and I'm here for the same reason I came.”

Coach Chris Collins wasn't even there to see Buie at a game between the AAU teams from Minnesota and New England in Las Vegas in 2018. Collins was trolling players from the Minnesota squad, which is stacked with big Division I recruits. But the skinny 6-2 relatively nameless from the Hudson Valley popped that team for about 30 points. Intrigued, Collins then watched Buie hang 30 more on a loaded Southern California team featuring future NBA players Isaiah Mobley, Evan Mobley and Johnny Juzang.

“What is missing from all these other schools?” Collins remembers thinking. “This child is very good.”

So Collins threw his line at a little-known recruit who had been courted by a handful of mid-eastern majors.

“Northwestern was the only big school that gave me a chance and told me they believed in me,” says Buie. “They gave me the opportunity to make my name. Why did I switch now and go somewhere else? That is not me.”

Buie's ascent to college basketball was difficult and frustrating, and sometimes painful. He's playing in a team with too much politics and drama, and for a coach who tends not to deliver on their big talk. When one of the AAU coaches started giving his son more minutes for Buie, it felt more or less the same.

“Growing up my life, I was always let down,” he said. “I'm always being told and making promises, but they're never true. I've just been let down and misled a lot.

“I know the world of college basketball is more of a business, and they will let you down the second something goes wrong. But not here. Just having that loyalty and having that trust and the comfort of being my school and my program and just everyone embracing me, it's been great. That's something special.”

Those good feelings carried Buie through three losing seasons as Northwestern were buried at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Conference powerhouses didn't show much respect in those tough years, according to Buie, who said he heard many coaches tear their teams apart during games with disparaging comments about the Wildcats.

One trainer crossed the line.

“I remember hearing word for word after one game, in particular,” said Buie, “and I won't name anyone, but they were like, ‘We lost to (expletive) Northwestern!? That's not a problem. This program has never lost to (expletive) Northwestern. That's not a problem. It is not good.'

“Dude, okay, we might be a bad program, but if you get beat on a certain night, can't you just tip? That's what I'm going to do.”

Last season brought so much satisfaction and so many memorable Buie moments. He scored 26 points on Super Bowl Sunday in a wild loss to the No. 1 ranking. He finished Indiana's season sweep with the winning buoy just before the bell rang. He placed 35 on the board at Illinois. He had 22 in the NCAA Tournament win against Boise State.

The Wildcats devoured six away league wins, surged into second place, broke into the Top 25, danced – it was electrifying. And a long time coming.

“I'm just grateful,” he said, “because through all the losses, it made me a better person, a better man, a better teammate. It grows my game. It's not like I didn't get better even when we lost. Not that we're wasting our time.”

And now there will be even more. Buie will be working to improve his three-point game—he shot 31.8% last season—which is a No. 1 item. 1 in NBA feedback he received. He would spend another season with his brother, Wildcats assistant coach Talor Battle, who was Penn State's career scoring leader and had a distinguished professional career overseas. She will be pursuing her master's degree in organizational learning and change, track in the School of Education and Social Policy.

The money will also be good.

“I love this place,” said Buie.

That's the ticket, right?