Louis De Palma, Norm, Turtle and ... Tavaras Hardy?

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By Joe Henricksen

As far as sidekicks go, they should never be undervalued. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking college basketball coaching or television. (By now you know the Hoops Report loves talking television, movies, music and any pop culture and using its relevance and context in relation to high school hoops and recruiting).

The focus of a sitcom, for example, as well as a college basketball coaching staff, is undoubtedly directed towards the main character — those in the lead roles of the show and the head coach of the program. But analyze things a bit more closely and a lot of the work — and laughs in the sitcoms and success in the program — come from those that often play second fiddle, the sidekicks.

If you talk about “Taxi”, a host of actors, mostly the cab drivers and an immigrant mechanic, come to mind — boxer-wannabe Tony, pretty-boy Bobby, Alex, Elaine and Andy Kaufman’s Latka. But where would the show have been without dispatcher Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito)?

The bar in Boston was centered around Sam Malone, but did anyone make people laugh more when watching “Cheers” than Norm Peterson?

First one you think of when you think “Three’s Company”?

Jack Tripper? Probably. Chrissy? Maybe (highly underrated herself during her peak time — in many ways). But it was Ralph Furley, the building manager, who was the prized sidekick providing maybe the biggest laughs during his time on the show. Poor ‘ol Mr. Furley never got the hype, especially since this was Don Knots’ second terrific sidekick role — the first as Barney Fife (to Sheriff Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show”).

The same with George Costanza (to Jerry on “Seinfeld”), Richie Cunningham (to Fonzie on “Happy Days”), Robert Barone (to Raymond on “Everybody Loves Raymond”), Screech (to Zack Morris on “Saved By the Bell”) and Dr. Niles Crane (to Frasier Crain on “Frasier”).

There are identifiable and underrated sidekicks in all genres of television, including Chloe (to Jack Bauer on “24”) and Fozzie Bear (to Kermit the Frog on “The Muppet Show”). And the Hoops Report’s three underrated favorite sidekicks: Turtle (to Vinny Chase on “Entrourage”), Paulie Walnuts (to Tony Soprano on “The Sopranos”) and Charlie Runkle (to Hank Moody on “Californication”).

First thing that comes to mind when people think Northwestern basketball? Maybe John Shurna’s awkward game and unorthodox jumper, but probably coach Bill Carmody, who some will be shocked is already beginning his 12th season as head coach in Evanston. But as with any college basketball program, the assistant coach can often be that vital sidekick.

There are valuable assistants throughout the country, some who are more important to their respective program than people even realize. Locally there is no better example of that than Tavaras Hardy at Northwestern, a Don Knots-like sidekick for Northwestern basketball. Forget Knots, rest his soul (he passed away in 2006). We’ll go Turtle for the young generation. “Entourage” without Turtle? No way. Northwestern without Hardy? The folks in purple don’t even want to think about it.

Without much fanfare this spring, the Northwestern assistant coach recently received the “associate head coach” tag, a much deserved promotion for the guy who has been a part of the best recruiting success in the school’s history.

The press release that accompanied Hardy’s promotion through the Northwestern sports information office offered pleasantries from both Carmody and athletic director Jim Phillips. While they were all certainly true — “ability to relate to young people” … “work ethic and commitment” ….”great passion for Northwestern” … “great asset” … “terrific representative” — there is more to Hardy and his importance to Northwestern basketball.

For starters, Hardy gets and understands Northwestern — athletically, socially and academically. He’s a graduate and played at Northwestern for four years and was a three-time team MVP. That right there is highly undervalued. The ability to have a coach on staff that played and went to the school he is recruiting to is valuable, especially at a place like Northwestern. Obviously, recruiting to Northwestern is a little different than 90 percent of the school’s the Wildcats recruit against.

Northwestern has not been to a NCAA Tournament for obvious reasons. The talent hasn’t been in place. But the Wildcats, who won 20 games and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT last season, are oh, so close. The talent level right now in Evanston — last year and in coming years — is probably the best it’s ever been. And Hardy has been at the center of the talent upswing.

The heart and soul of the program, senior John Shurna of Glenbard West, was recruited by Hardy. Davide Curletti and Alex Marcotullio, who both played in all 34 games last season, were Hardy recruits. And as the program has had more success, Hardy has been responsible for pumping impressive young talent into the program, such as Naperville Central product Drew Crawford. The junior guard was the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Player of the Year in Illinois as a senior in high school and was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Last year’s recruiting class included JerShon Cobb out of Georgia. Hardy was again the lead recruiter for Cobb, who was a four-star prospect nationally and averaged nearly 9 points a game as a freshman in Big Ten play this past season.

This year Hardy was front and center in recruiting highly-regarded shooting guard Tre Demps out of San Antonio and in-state recruits David Sobolewski of Benet Academy, a top 12 recruit in the loaded Class of 2011 in Illinois, and Michael Turner of University High.

Carmody and those around Northwestern basketball have come to appreciate Hardy’s talents. Following the associate head coach announcement, I half expected coach Carmody rolling down Central Street with Hardy riding shotgun and Soulja Boy’s “Sidekick” blaring on the stereo … “For My Sidekick, For My Sidekick, For My Sidekick.”(By the way, I might pay money to actually see Carmody blasting Soulja Boy from his car.)

But more than anything, Hardy, who was part of the Hoops Report’s Super Six last fall as one of the top six assistants who recruit the state of Illinois, has given Northwestern a presence. When it comes to recruiting, specifically the state of Illinois, it’s been a while (maybe never?) since Northwestern had a recognizable figure in gyms. Both high school and AAU coaches, along with their players and their families, immediately connect Hardy with Northwestern. He’s taken seriously and has a plan.

The associate head coach tag for Hardy, who will begin his sixth season as an assistant, was warranted. Now Northwestern hopes to cash in on the talent brought in before Hardy is off running his own program in the not-to-distant future.

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