Josh Rosenblat
By (@JMRosenblat)
Oct 15, 2013

EVANSTON, Ill. — If there was one word to describe the mood surrounding Northwestern basketball media day, it was excitement. For example, head coach Chris Collins twice said he was excited in his brief statement to open his press conference and the sentiment was echoed when talking with players too. It’s clear there’s a breath of fresh air surrounding the program but it is yet to be determined how it will manifest itself on the court. With that, here are some “exciting” notes and quotes from media day:

- Each one of Northwestern’s core players has played at least some meaningful minutes of college basketball coming into the season. Even sophomores like Kale Abrahamson and Alex Olah played major minutes last season as freshman due to various injuries to veteran players. That gives Collins some flexibility to use his team’s depth to his advantage.

“Well, I want to have everyone be able to help us out on the court,” Collins said. “We have 10 scholarship players that are currently with us and I feel like all 10 of them can help us. It’s my job, as a coach, to figure out who’s going to be the best group to start a game, how do we want to put our rotations together, what are some situational things guys can do. I told the guys from day one that no one had anything set in stone, in terms starting, coming off the bench or whatever role they were going to play. They would all earn their positions on this team. I think they’ve taken it to heart. They’ve worked hard.”

- Collins indicated that he was impressed with the physical work his players put in over the off-season. Conditioning, he said, will be important as he expects his “better guys [to] be in the condition where they can play 30-plus minutes in a game.”

“We’ve really tried to embrace our strength and conditioning, our sports performance program. They’ve done a great job with our guys. I think the first thing you’ll notice is, physically, a lot of our guys have changed their body types. [Dave] Sobo[lewski] is much leaner. I think he’s 12 to 14 pounds lighter. JerShon Cobb has lost almost 20 pounds since last year. Alex Olah is starting to change his body. He’s down about 10 pounds and is starting to trim up and get more physical and stronger. It’s something that we embrace, being in really good shape and trying to be physically ready to play every night,” Collins said.

- Collins made it clear that communication has been a major focal point for him and his staff so far, even going as far as taking a jab at modern methods of contact.

“I think communication and talk on the court is a skill,” Collins said. “It’s something that’s harder for these guys nowadays because all they do is text each other, they don’t talk anymore. The good teams communicate. They talk through situations whether its offense, defense. Something we’ve tried to build is our level of communication on the court, our talk.”

- Collins and his players have been pretty quiet about the specific inner-workings of their offensive schemes so far. According to point guard Dave Sobolewski, the offensive is very free flowing, one that demands that each player to know the role of almost every position on the floor.

“[Position] one through four is pretty much interchangeable,” Sobolewski said. “You kind of fill your spots. I don’t have to bring the ball down every time. Drew [Crawford] doesn’t have to be filling one corner. It’s kind of where ever you are when our team gets a defensive rebound, that determines what position you’re going to play on the next trip down.”

- As the only true freshman on this year’s roster, 6-foot-7 forward Nate Taphorn is already comfortable with his teammates. Although he did say that the transition from high school basketball to the college game has been tough, citing a new level of physicality, he already feels familiar with the team.

“It’s been pretty easy, actually, being the only freshman,” Taphorn said. “I don’t have another guy to walk around with or anything like that: to go and do stuff and eat meals with or to say, ‘Hey, let’s go to the gym and shoot.’ All of the sophomores [have helped] like Sanjay [Lumpkin]. I hang out with Sanjay a lot. Drew [Crawford] and everyone’s really gotten me acclimated pretty well. It’s been easy.”

  • Chasmo

    When the Cats routinely folded down the stretch of big late-season games during their best years under Carmody, it was easy to interpret that as being the result of the psychological problem of not believing in themselves.
    But Collins’ comments about how he has stressed physical fitness during the offseason makes one wonder that perhaps it wasn’t that the Cats were psychologically unfit to make big plays down the stretch to beat good teams in big games. Maybe they were physically unfit to do it.
    As Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
    It’s hard to imagine the Cats being able to win enough games to make the NIT this season considering how touch their schedule is but perhaps if Crawford and Cobb are back at 100% and Olah has improved, and Lumpkin is the pleasant surprise many hope he will be, perhaps Collins can lead these kids to the postseason. Whatever happens, it’s got to be better than last year.
    Let’s hope for the best.

    • Mark Wheaton

      Completely agree with you. I really think fatigue was a big factor. This season, with only 10 scholarship players, and the inevitable injuries, conditioning will be key. I am more optimistic than you that the Cats can make an NIT run. The nucleus is solid and experienced: Crawford, Cobb and Sobo. I can see NU going 8 deep but no more, so boys, get ready for some serious minutes!

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