Northwestern basketball is preparing to head to Spain, where they will play five exhibition games against professional teams on a preseason trip. Prior to their departure, the program held a media day Wednesday. Chris Collins and players spoke. Here's what they had to say:
Nate Taphorn has a right foot injury. He was in a walking boot Wednesday, and is out for the Spain trip (though he will still go on the trip with the team). Taphorn is expected to be back once the team begins its post-Spain preseason practices.
Aaron Falzon also did not practice Wednesday, but is day-to-day, and is expected to be back soon.
The Northwestern basketball team will travel to Spain from Aug. 22 until Sept. 1 to play five exhibition games against professional teams. The games will be played by FIBA rules, which feature a 24-second shot clock.
Collins is no stranger to overseas trips. As an assistant at Duke, his Blue Devils took preseason voyages to both London and China/Dubai.
"You see a lot of times that [playing overseas] gives teams a head start in the beginning of the year because they're able to play some games, get some offense and defense in while some of the other teams are maybe trying to find their way in November and December," Collins said Wednesday. "Hopefully this trip will help us be able to get out of the gates and play well early in the season."
The games in Spain will be played by FIBA rules, so in preparation for the trip, the team has been practicing with FIBA balls, which are slightly different than those used in the NBA and college basketball. Northwestern has also laid tape down on the Welsh-Ryan Arena court to adjust to the wider lane, and has been using a 24-second shot clock in scrimmages.
Chris Collins says the trip "comes at a great time," as it will give players a chance to prepare for this year's shorter shot clock. The NCAA reduced the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 seconds in June.
Demps at point guard?
Collins says Tre Demps will play a "secondary point guard" role at times. "If Bryant [McIntosh] is out of the game, you could see Tre bringing it up, or even if they're playing together at times. If a team is trying to put a small, quicker guy on Bryant, I'd feel comfortable that Tre can bring it up and initiate our offense as well...Vic Law has done a great job at doing that as well."
Young players bulked up
Collins: "The two guys who really needed the added strength were Lindsey and Law. Both those guys are about 15 pounds heavier than they were last year, which is great. They played at about 185 last year--they're both up to about 200 pounds. More important than just the weight is that they're playing stronger. When they're making moves they're not getting bumped in off their cut or losing their balance. The added strength can be a big confidence boost for a player.
McIntosh has also added weight: "I think I've gotten a lot stronger," McIntosh said. "I bounce around between 190 and 185, compared to where I finished last year, like 172 after the Indiana game. It's good weight that I put on and my body feels great now."
McIntosh seemed to wear down towards the end of last season, perhaps hitting the "freshman wall," so coming into this season in better shape could be crucial.
Collins on the freshmen
"They're normal freshman. Their heads are spinning," Collins said when asked about the progress of freshmen Jordan Ash, Aaron Falzon and Dererk Pardon. "That being said, all three of them come from outstanding high school programs...so they came in with a good base which is very helpful...There's no reason why all three of them can't help us this year in different ways."
Collins on Northwestern being an "up-and-coming" program: "I'm excited about the talk about us being a team on the upswing and having a chance to be good, but like I tell our guys all the time: to me, the words ‘upside' and ‘potential' only mean that we haven't done anything yet."
Collins seemed to dismiss the notion that Northwestern's non-conference schedule is weak. "We have three road games that, to me, are going to be very challenging, playing at Virginia Tech, at DePaul, and then the two games in Kansas City, those are road games. If you play Kansas State or Missouri in Kansas city, that's a road game... When you look back on our body of work, [including Big Ten play], there's going to be a number of high profile games throughout the year."
Collins said Skelly will play more power forward this season, as opposed to center. "He can shoot the ball and he's a good passer, and I feel that's more his natural position," Collins said. "Out of necessity last year, we just weren't very big, and we needed him to play more as a center, and I think it hurt him...He's a natural power forward."
Collins said the addition of big men Dererk Pardon and Joey van Zegeren give Northwestern more options, meaning they won't need to be so heavily reliant on Alex Olah as the only true paint player: "We were who we were, we had one pitch. And if that pitch wasn't working, we usually didn't win. I'm excited to maybe have enough personnel this year for us to throw some different pitches and have some different lineups to keep teams off balance."
Ash said he has been learning both point guard and shooting guard, and said he could see himself playing plenty of both throughout his career at NU. As for his role this year... "I want to guard the best player...on the defensive end is where I feel like I'm gonna be able to really help this team," Ash said.
Collins says the 6-foot-3 Bolingbrook, Ill. native — who played shooting guard almost exclusively in high school — will need to develop as a point guard over the course of his college career. However, Collins does not explicitly label Ash a point guard right now.
Note: The program will not live stream any of the five games in Spain. However, they will be live-tweeting them, Wi-Fi permitting. Highlights may also be available. We'll have as much coverage up on our site as possible.