Money talks, but so does the heart — and Boo Buie’s belongs to Northwestern

“I was here before NIL,” Buie said a day after announcing he’d be back in Evanston for a fifth season, “and I’m here for the same reasons I came.”

SHARE Money talks, but so does the heart — and Boo Buie’s belongs to Northwestern
Northwestern’s Boo Buie announced he will return to the WIldcats.

Northwestern’s Boo Buie announced he will return to the WIldcats.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

All-Big Ten guard Boo Buie withdrew from the NBA draft this week and let the world know he’d be returning to Northwestern for season No. 5 as a Wildcat.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

What the heck was he thinking?

In these Wild West days of college sports, Buie probably could have taken his considerable talents just about anywhere. Could have tasted life at one of basketball’s blue bloods, perhaps, or found a destination closer to his Albany, New York, home, or closed his eyes and thrown a dart at a map.

The point is: Doesn’t everybody leave everywhere for everyplace else nowadays?

It sure gets exhausting trying to follow it all. Maybe that’s what makes Buie staying at Northwestern such a nice thing.

“I’m huge on loyalty,” he said Tuesday after a team workout at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Six figures of NIL money had a say in it, too, one can only assume. But Buie’s relationship with Northwestern also runs extra-deep.

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

Coach Chris Collins wasn’t even there to see Buie at a game between AAU teams from Minnesota and New England in Las Vegas in 2018. Collins was fishing for a player from the Minnesota squad, which was stacked with high-major Division I recruits. But a scrawny 6-2 relative no-name 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 are all these other schools missing?” Collins remembers thinking. “This kid is pretty darn good.”

So Collins cast his line in the direction of a little-known recruit who’d been courted by a handful of mid-majors back east.

“Northwestern was the only big school who gave me a chance and told me they believed in me,” Buie said. “They gave me the opportunity to make my name. Why would I switch up now and go somewhere else? That wouldn’t be me.”

Buie’s climb to college basketball was difficult and frustrating, and sometimes hurtful. He played on teams with too much politics and drama, and for coaches who tended not to deliver on their big talk. As one AAU coach started giving his son more and more of Buie’s minutes, it just felt like more of the same.

“Growing up my whole life, I always got let down,” he said. “I always was told things and made promises, but they never held true. I just got let down and misled a lot.

“I know the college basketball world is even more of a business, and they’ll let you down as soon as one thing goes wrong. But not here. Just having that loyalty and having that trust and that comfort of this being my school and my program and just everybody embracing me, it’s just awesome. It’s a special thing.”

Those good feelings carried Buie through three losing seasons when Northwestern was buried toward the bottom of the Big Ten standings. The powerhouses of the conference didn’t show much respect in those lean years, according to Buie, who says he overheard multiple coaches rip into their teams during games with belittling comments about the Wildcats.

One coach went way over the line.

“I remember hearing word for word after one game, specifically,” Buie said, “and I won’t say anyone’s name, but they were like, ‘We lost to [expletive] Northwestern!? That’s not a thing. This program never loses to [expletive] Northwestern. That’s not a thing. That’s not OK.’

“Man, OK, we may have been a bad program, but if you get beat on a given night, can’t you just tip your cap? That’s what I would do.”

The past season brought so much satisfaction and so many impressive Buie moments. He scored 26 points on Super Bowl Sunday in a wild upset of No. 1-ranked Purdue. He completed a season sweep of Indiana with a winning floater just before the buzzer. He put 35 on the board at Illinois. He had 22 in the NCAA Tournament win against Boise State.

The Wildcats gobbled up six road wins in the league, shot up the standings all the way to second place, busted into the Top 25, went dancing — such thrills. And a long time coming.

“I’m just grateful,” he said, “because through all the losing, it’s made me a better person, a better man, a better teammate. It’s grown my game. It’s not like I wasn’t getting better even when we were losing. It’s not like we were wasting time.”

And now there will be more of it. Buie will work on improving his three-point game — he shot 31.8% last season — which was item No. 1 in the NBA feedback he received. He’ll get to spend another season with his brother, Wildcats assistant coach Talor Battle, who is Penn State’s career scoring leader and had a nice professional career overseas. He’ll pursue his master’s degree in learning and organizational change, a track within the School of Educational and Social Policy.

The money will be good, too.

“I love this place,” Buie said.

That’s the ticket, isn’t it?

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