Chris Collins opened his day at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago with a short session in front of TV cameras. Here's what he had to say:
- Collins: "The best programs are the ones where the players can carry out the culture. We're finally getting the that point where our guys are holding each other accountable."
- Collins called McIntosh "the head of it all." He spoke about putting a lot of responsibility on McIntosh, and said he "fed him to the wolves" last year. Collins also said one of the reasons he's confident McIntosh will be able to adapt to the Big Ten better in his sophomore season is the strength he's put on this offseason.
- Collins said Alex Olah has been "much more vocal than he's ever been" now as a senior.
- Collins said freshman Jordan Ash will be a third guard who can come in and spell either McIntosh or Demps at either the one or the two.
- Collins called freshman Aaron Falzon a "weapon," and said NU's players have realized that "if he's open, you've got to find him." Collins also called Falzone a "mature player for his age."
- Collins was asked about the NCAA Tournament. He said that he doesn't talk about it much with his team. "It's not on this current team's shoulders," he said. He seemed to be careful about putting any timetable on making the tournament, essentially saying that his main focus is taking another step as a program. However, he did say, "For me, it's a matter of when, not if."
- Collins: "My goal every year I've ever played basketball, or been a part of college basketball as a player or coach, has been to be in the NCAA Tournament. If that's not my goal, then I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing."
- Collins talked about being able to experiment during the Spain trip. Specifically, he talked about being able to experiment on defense. In the middle of the quote, he was on the verge of saying the word "zone," but stopped himself mid-word and said that he experimented with some different defenses.
Here's the full transcript:
Collins: Obviously, it's an exciting time of year getting started with the season. We're looking forward to seeing what we can do. I think it's a great time to be part of the Big Ten. Everybody's programs are at such a high level, it makes for great basketball. And we're looking forward to see where we fit into that mix. A lot of experience coming back led by two really good seniors in Tre Demps and Alex Olah, who played a lot in their careers and I think are poised to have big senior years. We worked in the off season and we're looking forward to getting going next month.
Q. So this past season was your first season with your own recruiting class. Can you explain the importance of having guys that you recruited on your roster to run your system? And can you also talk about what you're looking for from Bryant McIntosh in his sophomore season?
Collins: Yeah. I think anytime there's some continuity, with -- when you're in your first year, everything is so new for everybody. I'm trying to figure out about the players. They're trying to figure out about me. We're trying to figure out who we are. We're trying to develop an identity. And for us, I think having a couple years together now, we mentioned virtually everyone back from last year who played equal minutes and produced for us, I think those are only positives.
I've always felt like the best programs are the ones where the players can carry out the culture, and we're finally getting to that point where our guys are holding each other accountable. They understand what I expect and the way we like to do things.
And you know, you mentioned Bryant, he's the one who is kind of head of it all. Your point guard is the guy who is the face of your offense and your defense and your huddles. I think what he went through last year as a freshman, I kind of fed him to the wolves, threw him in there; it's a tough league and a tough environment, and he showed what he was all about. And I think him having gone through the league for a year, played well. You know, Saunders understood the steps he needed to take getting a little bit stronger, working on different aspects of the game. And it's nice when you have a point guard like you have with Bryant because it sets the tone for everything you're trying to do, and I hope he can make a big jump from his freshman and sophomore year. I think he's going to do that.
Q. Coach a lot of media people have Alex Olah as an underage big man this year. What do you expect from Alex Olah?
Collins: Well, Alex -- I think a lot of you guys cover our league, if you see the improvements he's made from his freshman year to now his senior year, you see all the work he's put in. He's changed his body, he's developed a really nice low-post game. He's always been an incredibly skilled big man who can step out on the floor. He can make a shot, he can pass. I think just the confidence of having success at this level has been big for him. You know, certainly for us to be a good team this year, we're going to need for him to be a presence down low and to be a consistent guy in our league that can be potential double-double guy. And we're going to need that.
I think he relishes that opportunity. He's really stepped into the leadership role nicely. He's been much more vocal than he's ever been. And we have to make sure that we use what he can bring to the team, and there's no question in order for us to maximize, we need him to have a great year for us.
Q. Coach, you've got two big freshman this year in Jordan Ash and Aaron Falzon. Can you talk a little bit about what role you're hoping for them to fulfill this season?
Collins: I think both of those guys have an opportunity to make an impact for us. Jordan, being a local guy, is a state champion here in Illinois. I put a lot on that. Guys come from winning programs, they're around winning. He's a really good athlete. For us, we have a really good back court with him and McIntosh, I think Jordan is kind of that third guard who can come in and spell either guy. I think he can play both positions, he's very defensively a very good athlete. I think with Aaron Falzon, he's an outstanding shooter at 6-foot 8, which can be a real weapon for us. It allows the space. When he comes in, he's a mature player for his age and I think he'll be a big part of what we're doing and the guys are already knowing that if he's open you've got to find him. Because he'll be one of the more dangerous from the 3-point range in our league even as a freshman. So it's nice when you can add some firepower to what we already have.
Q. Coach, it's no secret that Northwestern's never made the NCAA tournament. How often do you talk about that with your players and how important would it be to your program to finally get to the big dance?
Collins: Well, obviously I've been asked about it a lot, and it's nice that people feel like we're on an upward trajectory, that it's even in the discussion. I mean, any -- that is all good. We don't talk about it a lot with our guys, but I think coming into the season, we did talk about the fact that it's not on this current team's shoulders to feel the pressure day in and day out of playing for however many years it's been of going to the NCAA tournament. If you start doing that, then you're not going to be successful.
You know, I want these guys to enjoy the journey they have together. We have to take it each step -- I know it's cliché and I don't like that, but you have to really -- you have to take each season as it comes along. If we start putting our heads in the clouds and thinking about March, we're going to be really disappointed when that time comes because there's so much between now and then. You know, we have to win basketball games in non-conference. You have to do well in the league.
I think there's a confidence in our program right now. I think there's a belief we can be a good team. I like that. And certainly my goal every year I've ever played basketball or been part of college basketball as a player or coach, has been to be in the NCAA tournament. If that's not my goal, then I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing. I've said it all along. For me, it's a matter of when that happens, not if. That's the confidence level that I think we all share. So it would be great if it was this year.
I think the main thing we're trying to do is make a step forward. I think our progression the last two years has been good. And it would be nice to keep, you know, going that way. And it's not easy when we're in the Big Ten because if you're trying to climb a ladder, that means that you've got to go above people that are really good. And it's going to be a great league, and I've said this league is as well coached and as good as anything I've ever been a part of, night in and night out. And we're just looking forward to seeing where we fit in that mix and the kind of mark we can leave as our program.
Q. In terms of the Spain trip, how important was that for you guys to get the extra practices in to learn a little bit more about your guys' team?
Collins: I think it's always an advantage for every program to be able to do that with practice. You also get the games. So for me, it was a chance kind of like exhibition games you can play different lineups together, you can experiment with things, maybe some different defenses, different combinations. You kind of get a better feel in live game situations. And I think it's really good for the players, too, especially guys who are new. You know, for use we have older guys, you know, we are our freshman but also our transfer, Joey van Zegeren, who came from Virginia Tech, he didn't play very much last year, he only played the early part of the season. So for him to play some games and kind of see where he was at, I think, is all positive. Camaraderie on those trips is great; you're eating together, you're taking tours, you're doing things, you're playing.
I think we became a closer team. I think I learned a lot about our strengths. I learned about what our weaknesses were. And I think coming into this preseason, being able to adjust those things and kind of continue to figure out what the identity of this team is going to be.