Football training camp is in full swing and Northwestern fans are eagerly anticipating the upcoming college football season. Basketball will take a back seat to the happenings on the gridiron over the next couple months, but we’re bringing you an update from associate head coach Tavaras Hardy, who took some time to talk about about the Wildcats’ struggles at the end of last season and expectations heading into 2012. Hardy is in his sixth year working the sidelines for the Wildcats and was promoted to his current position last spring. A two-time All-Big Ten selection, Hardy played four seasons (1998-2002) for the Wildcats and ranks second in program history with 118 games played, including 113 starts. Follow him on Twitter @CoachTHardy_NU.
Describe the overall general feeling in the locker room after last year’s loss to Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
Disappointment. Not just because it hurt our NCAA tournament resume, but also because we wanted to give ourselves a chance to make some noise in the B1G Tournament. After two overtime losses to Michigan, we all wanted another crack at them.
Last season, did you ever come upon the team discussing the NCAA Tournament and, more specifically, what they needed to do in order to reach that goal? Would the coaches ever discuss “bubble” projections, RPI and other determinative Tournament selection committee criteria?
We mentioned relevant things for motivation at times, for example, how important each possession was as we pursue our bigger goals. But the NCAA tournament talk did not bog down our players or staff. I’m sure our guys had a close eye on the situation, as the coaches did. But our main focus was on the immediate tasks at hand.
What was the most disappointing part about not making the tournament last season? What was the general attitude among the players during the two NIT games?
The most disappointing part was for John Shurna and the rest of the senior class not to have the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. That class accomplished a lot. More wins and post season appearances than any other group, by far. But the guys were fired up about the opportunity to keep playing. We went into the NIT, focused.
Which specific aspects of the game—shooting, interior scoring, pressure defense, rebounding, etc.—do you believe the team needs to focus on heading into this season?
All of them. We are a leave no stone unturned team. We must continue to perfect the things we are best at, and improve in other areas where necessary. We will continue to play a fun, unselfish brand of basketball, one our fans can be proud of…
Without John Shurna, the leading scorer in the Big Ten last season at 20.0 ppg, what will be the biggest changes offensively this season?
The concepts will remain the same. Our returners have all improved and our new guys are good. You can’t replace John Shurna with just one person, but collectively, we are excited about our offense and our ability to put points on the board.
With an influx of bigger players this offseason, guys like Alex Olah, Jared Swopshire, Chier Ajou and Nikola Cerina (who is eligible this season after transferring from TCU), do you anticipate a more frontcourt-oriented offensive gameplan than we’re accustomed to seeing in recent years?
I think there will be an opportunity to place more emphasis on some of the things that are already in our offense, that we may not have utilized as much in the past. We will definitely look to post those guys more, but it will still be within the context of what we already do. Although, those guys are versatile and will not be limited to just being around the basket.
Who are some of the younger players you envision stepping up this season?
I think they will all have a chance to impact the squad, immediately. They all bring something different to the table, but they are all highly skilled, unselfish guys. They fit very well with the current players and will help us take our program to the next level!