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February 1, 2013EVANSTON-Before Northwestern beat then-No.12 Minnesota on Jan. 23, head coach Bill Carmody called freshman forward Kale Abrahamson into his office.
It certainly wasn't the type of visit that Abrahamson wanted.
After going scoreless in only nine minutes of play against Indiana -- the third straight game in which he scored three or fewer points -- Abrahamson was informed that redshirt freshman guard Tre Demps would start in his place.
Demps has started every game since, averaging 18.3 minutes-per-game during the stretch, compared to a paltry average of 4.6 minutes for Abrahamson. Still, the success of the switch is up for debate.
As a starter, Demps has averaged six points, including a 10-point performance against Minnesota, a decent improvement over Abrahamson's poor production. Still, Demps is just 7-for-24 over the past three games, good for just over 29 percent from the floor.
And the bottom line is that Northwestern (12-10, 3-6 Big Ten) won just once in that three-game stretch.
Despite the current allocation of minutes, Abrahamson, who is dedicated to regaining his starting position, will not let coming off the bench affect his performance when Carmody does decide to put him on the court.
"I'd like to be starting, and I'd like to be playing as much as possible," said Abrahamson, who started nine games before the demotion. "[But] when you're not in control of something, you can't really worry about it. It's not going to affect my confidence at all."
When a player comes off the bench, especially in the limited minutes Abrahamson was given in games against Minnesota (two) and Nebraska (one), it can often be difficult to find a rhythm. There is also little room for error -- a couple ill-advised shots or a defensive lapse can result in a walk back to the bench.
While Abrahamson acknowledges that transitioning from the bench to the game is difficult because of tightened muscles, he refused to use his new role on this Northwestern team as a reason for his 1-for-6 shooting over the last three contests.
"It's not really an excuse," Abrahamson said. "If you come off the bench, Coach expects you to play well. I still expect myself to play well."
If Abrahamson is able to use these opportunities effectively, both in games and in practice, it will directly affect how much playing time he will receive, Carmody said.
"If he plays well in practice, and he does well in those minutes, then he plays more," Carmody said. "It's a meritocracy."
In order to make the most of these minutes, Abrahamson said he has worked extra hard since losing his starting job. While he said he wants what is best for the team, he did not deny that he wants more playing time.
"No one likes to sit on the bench," Abrahamson said. "I'm not gonna pretend I would love sitting on the bench."
It remains too early to tell how the situation will ultimately play out.
Against Michigan, the 6-foot-7 Iowan earned more than 10 minutes of playing time for the first time since he lost his starting job. However, the match up against the Wolverines turned into a blowout in the latter portion of the second half, and several of Abrahamson's minutes came when the game was out of Northwestern's reach.
He also scored for the first time in four games against the Wolverines, but he shot just 1-for-4 for three points.
As the Cats head into Saturday's matchup with Purdue, Abrahamson looks to utilize each and every minute, whether it comes at the beginning of the game or the end of a lopsided final.
"I definitely want to do something to impress Coach," Abrahamson said. "[Playing time] is a little bit more precious now that the minutes are limited."
Ultimately, it is Abrahamson's effort and ability to knock down shots that will determine whether he finds himself as a starter or a bench player on this Wildcat team. Of this, he seems very aware.
"I'm doing everything I can in practice," said Abrahamson, minutes before he laced up his sneakers for practice. "Coach is gonna decide who he puts on the court."
"I'm just trying to give 100 percent effort on both ends of the court, and let the chips fall where they may."