At various points last season, Alex Olah was a promising developmental frontcourt piece making observable progress towards realizing his full complement of physical skills. Other times, he was frustrating and unassertive, reticent to impose himself on either end of the floor. And the most confusing part of it all, was that Olah alternated between excellent and subpar performances seemingly by the week; the peaks and troughs were scrunched in succession.
During the "middle" portion of his freshman season, as Olah best recalls it, his confidence dropped. His numbers – with scattered positive blips of evidence to the contrary – dipped. He had hit the classic freshman wall.
By March, when Olah logged 30 or more minutes while reaching double-figures in consecutive games to finish the season, Olah’s low self esteem had corrected upward. The mid-season swoon was over.
“I gained my confidence back,” Olah said Tuesday. “That was important.”
Following an impressive run with the Romanian U-20 national team at the FIBA European championships this summer, it’s safe to say Olah’s confidence is higher than it’s ever been since he stepped on campus last summer. In eight games, Olah posted team-highs in points (16.8), rebounds (9.1) and blocked shots (1.6) while leading Romania to a 7th place finish in the B division.
This wasn’t Olah’s first experience with his home country’s national hoops team – he has competed with the Romanian squad at the U-16 and U-18 levels. Two years ago, while competing in the same Tournament with the 18’s, Olah registered nearly the same exact scoring average (16.7) but also tacked on an average of just under five more rebounds per game.
But this was the first time Olah revisited the international game since arriving in Evanston last summer, and the first time he entered an offseason with a checklist of physical and technical tasks to check off following an up-and-down season in the most brutal conference in college basketball. So he used his stint in Pitesti, Romania (the site of the tournament) to gauge his offseason progress – skill-wise and physically – and after leading his team through a comparatively tough* eight-game slate, Olah couldn’t have been happier with how much his work had paid off in such rapid time.
“It’s been really good,” he said. “I’ve just been working on a lot of things.”
Rather than sitting idly in the post, Olah stepped out of his typical paint-cordoned offensive comfort zone and made a concerted effort to work on longer-range field goal attempts, facing up from mid-range and improving his passing.
“I was the go-to guy,” he said. “I was able to do a lot of things that aren’t in my usual arsenal.”
Expanding his range of offensive skills wasn’t the only change Olah made this offseason. He also committed himself to a more rigorous weight room program and added several pounds of muscle. Olah says his newly toned physique has allowed him to move quicker, jump higher and defend a more diverse range of opponents.
“I’m more cut now,” he said.
Heading into this season, Olah – who has yet to practice his teammates – does not know how he will fit into coach Chris Collins’ system. He does know it will be different from the Princeton principles former coach Bill Carmody used to help recruit Olah, and that a greater number of pick and roll sets will be involved.
“I’m not sure about all of the details,” he said. “But I know there will be differences.”
The “sophomore leap” is one of the more overused clichés in modern college basketball analysis, but Olah might be the perfect candidate. With a positive mindset and a trimmed physique, Olah is ready to erase the remnants of last season’s inconsistency and poor self-image. He’s confident, physically-fit and, most importantly, prepared to help Collins begin his Northwestern tenure in winning fashion.
*Information about the more competitive “A” division, featuring European powerhouses such as Spain, France and Greece, can be found here.