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Northwestern's Chris Collins at 2013 Big Ten Basketball Media Day

The Big Ten's other new head coach spoke about what it's going to take to get Northwestern competitive in 2013's best basketball conference.


THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by Chris Collins. 
COACH COLLINS:  Obviously for me it's exciting to be here, being in year one, having an opportunity to be a coach in such a great conference like the Big Ten, walking around, seeing some of the great coaches in our game. 
I'm looking forward to seeing what we can become as a program this year, our team is still a little bit of a work in progress.  Last year, the team was besieged with injuries, four kids who had to redshirt, medical redshirts, probably three of which would have been starters. 
So we're returning some veteran guys coming off injuries.  We have a solid perimeter headed by Drew Crawford as a fifth‑year senior.  Certainly we're going to rely on him to be kind of the rock for our team, an older guy that's played in a lot of Big Ten games, has been successful at this level. 
And for us right now a lot of things are new.  Certainly it's a new style, new philosophy, a lot of new terminology.  I've been very pleased with how our guys have responded, how hard they're working.  Everybody's bought into what we're trying to do, and I'm hoping as we can continue to progress through the season, that we can improve and get better, and that's what ‑‑ in order to be a team that can be successful in the Big Ten we have to continue to improve and get better.  And we need each of our guys‑‑ we're not blessed with a lot of depth.  We only have ten scholarship guys currently healthy and ready to play.  But all of them can contribute and help.  And we're going to need everybody as we head into obviously a tough schedule of games this year.
THE MODERATOR:  Questions.

Q.  Is James Montgomery, III, the most famous player after what happened with the video?
COACH COLLINS:  I was going to say I don't know if that's a good or bad thing when a walk‑on/new‑scholarship guy is the most famous guy in the program.  But certainly that was a great moment for us.  Anytime‑‑ and I know it happens in a lot of programs, we're not the only one, but it's one of the things that's great about college athletics, to be able to reward a guy that is an engineering major, has worked hard in the program, is a senior, has put in the time and commitment and to be able to reward him with this in his senior year was great.
It makes it worthwhile, what we do as coaches.  Forget about the wins and losses, to see that raw emotion, to see him call his mom and get emotional and that was really a cool thing.

Q.  What has been the biggest challenges in transitioning from the Princeton to your offensive philosophy?
COACH COLLINS:  Well, I think to their credit and coach Carmody's credit, he did a great job of instilling that system into the guys.  But when you run a system like that, it's so intricate, and it's something you have to do every day.  And it's pretty regimented in how you cut, how you move. 
And so to kind of get out of a little bit of those things has been an adjustment.  And really, initially, in the spring, the summer, we held off on putting in a lot of offense because I wanted the guys to really just get out and play and see kind of the guys I was working with, what they could be good at.  And, really, we concentrated more initially on our defense.  And I wanted them to kind of show what they could do offensively and freelance a little bit.
Once we kind of saw what our personnel was and what we were working with, we kind of tried to develop a system that can be successful for our team.  And, really, to me that's what the essence of coaching is.  I think coaching is about taking the personnel you have and trying to make it successful, what kind of defense you play, what kind of offense you play.  And really I'd be foolish‑‑ I think you'll probably see some components of what they've done in the past, because there has been success. 
So we're trying to implement some new things but also stay true to some of the things maybe that has been good for some of these players.  So I think it will be a little bit of a mixture of both here in this first year. 

Q.  I've asked this to many of the other coaches in the conference.  But piggybacking on what you just said, what is the overall identity that you're trying to establish with your team?
COACH COLLINS:  I think in year one, you know, as we're getting started, kind of the approach I've made, whether it be good or bad‑‑ and it's not all bad.  There's a lot of good.  This is a program that was four of the last five years in the NIT and two years ago is a close loss away from being in the NCAA Tournament
So there was a lot of positives as well.  But whether it be good or bad, I think what we've all tried to do is just get a fresh start.  And it's a clean slate for everyone.  It's a whole new staff.  A number of players are coming off injuries.  It's a clean slate for them. 
And the main thing I've tried to do more than anything is lay a foundation for what we want our program to be about, how hard we play, how we practice, the attention to detail.  And those are things that I think carry over time. 
So I think in year one, just creating those standards on a day‑to‑day basis, can we string two or three really good days of practice together. 
And those are kind of the small victories right now as we head into the season that I'm looking for and the little improvements along the way.  And I've been fortunate, I have really good leadership.  I have co‑captains Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski, guys that have started a lot of games in the Big Ten, have played at a high level.  And I'm fortunate to have a veteran perimeter that I can lean on as I get started in my first year.

Q.  How is the relationship between you and Dave developing and how do you see that relationship working out with him having run the point for the majority of the last two years?
COACH COLLINS:  Well, Dave and I have a very good relationship.  And the thing that I love about Dave is he's like a coach on the floor.  In order for him to be successful at this level, he's had to be smart.  He's had to be tough.  He's had to learn where he can find his way.  And I admire him as a player. 
You'll see physically he's lost about 15 pounds.  He's gotten lighter, he's quicker.  He's had a great offseason.  And I expect him to be an extension of me and our staff on the floor. 
And all of you guys know, you can only go as your point guard goes.  And every team has a point guard that commands the team on the floor, that gets them organized.  You're the head of the offense, you point the defense.  And we're expecting him to be obviously a key guy. 
But the main role he has is to be our leader.  And leadership, the leader and the coach has to have a great relationship.  And I feel good about the connection we have, and it's only going to grow with time.
I've only been here a few months.  So the fact that our relationship can only get stronger is something that I look forward to.

Q.  How do you establish yourself recruiting‑wise in this state and city that's so competitive for the recruits?
COACH COLLINS:  I think one of the things that's exciting about our situation is the fact that we are right here in Chicago.  I know I'm biased, being from this area, but I've always felt like the Chicago area and the state of Illinois is the best top A for basketball talent in the country.  If you look at the numbers, the amount of Division I players that come out of our state every year‑‑ but not only in Illinois.  I think all across the Midwest. 
And I think Northwestern, we're the kind of school, we have a unique niche.  We offer the ability to be in the Big Ten, to play at the highest level of basketball, but also present a world‑class education.  And we're one of a few schools in the country that offer that, the best of both.  And I think there's a good buzz about our program. 
But I know it's also about getting results on the court.  It's not just about a buzz.  And people are excited about us.  It's been great going around town, people looking forward to seeing what we can become as a basketball program. 
But now it's up to us.  We've got to go out there and we've gotta do it on the court.  And to do that, it comes from the players.  And it's my role to put them in a position to be successful and then for those guys to go out there and do it on the court.  And we're looking forward now to have that opportunity.  It's that time of year and it's exciting to get started.

Q.  I know Alex Olah had a good summer with the Romanian National Team and he lost some weight, but what have you seen from him in practices this summer?  And do you expect him to be able to provide that offensive post presence that Northwestern really hasn't had in recent seasons?
COACH COLLINS:  We certainly have high expectations for Alex.  Alex is a talented player.  And to be seven feet, 265, 270 pounds, those are some things you just can't teach.  And Alex, he's got good hands.  He's got good footwork. 
I think the best thing for Alex, last year he was kind of thrown into the fire as a true freshman as a big guy in this conference having to play against some of the best big guys in the country. 
And he got better as the year went on.  He got knocked around a little bit early in the season.  As the year went on, he started to adjust, he got better. 
I think the thing I've seen out of Alex is improved confidence.  And so much about basketball and playing basketball as a player is how confident you are.  And I sense him walking around feeling like he's a player that can be successful at this level.  And a lot of times that's half the battle.  And he's going to be our anchor inside.  There's no question that we're blessed with a lot of big bodies on the front line.  And we need to establish him.  He needs to be able to give us some points, to give us rebounds and to give us that physical presence that we're going to need as we head into our conference. 
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach. 

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