Northwestern basketball embarks on a trip to Spain this weekend, where they will tour the country and play five exhibition games against professional European teams. Schools are only eligible for the trip once every four years, the last one made by Northwestern was in 2010.
Collins is clearly setting the pace and the mindset for the players as they prepare for the trip, where they will face Estudiantes, Eurocolegio Casvi, UCAM Murcia II, Andorra and US Toulouges.
“I think more than anything [we’re looking forward to] the team bonding, the camaraderie, the chemistry”, said coach Chris Collins when he spoke to reporters at their practice on Wednesday. “Obviously you want to win the games, you wanna play well, you wanna try to see things about your team, but those things are secondary to what I think a trip like this can do for a team in terms of how they bond and the chemistry they have going forward”.
The biggest adjustments being made in practice as preparation for this trip involve playing with European rules, including a small ball, deeper three point line, wider lanes and a 24 second shot clock.
“Its been great to see guys up against the clock”, said Collins. “So you learn you have to push it up quicker, you have to get into your sets quicker, and then when it does get to five or six seconds on the shot clock, you can’t panic. You have to use those last few seconds to really get a good shot and I think those are gonna be huge things as we head into the college basketball season”.
Coming off a positive end to last season, the Wildcats are looking at this trip as an opportunity to build off of that success both on and off the court. The team has been spending more time together in the offseason, building their chemistry but also focusing on their games and their conditioning. There were some noticeable changes in some of the guys when they came out for practice Wednesday. Senior center Alex Olah is leaner, as are fowards Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey and point guard Bryant McIntosh. They are hoping to gain more versatility in their lineups where Law can not only be stronger in the post, but can also bring it up at times, taking some of the pressure off of McIntosh and allowing him to play off the ball at times.
Even with all of that, the success of the Wildcats this season will on their leading scorer, senior Tre Demps. Demps is coming off his best season at Northwestern and is looking to continue to improve as a player a leader, which starts with keeping the high expectations in check.
“I’m really not thinking about March”, said Demps. “If you’re thinking about March then you’re not really thinking about what it takes to get there, and what it takes to get there is buying in every single day, doing things right every single day, practicing hard, and not letting a day go by where you didn’t get better.”
Collins is very high on Demps, who he has only had for two years. He has worked hard this offseason on being more efficient in the lane, being able to finish more consistently at the hoop and improving his defense as well, a shortcoming in his game he is not afraid to address. He has matured nicely, as evidenced by his feelings about not looking too far ahead, and his eager to take on a leadership role this season along with fellow captains Alex Olah and Sanjay Lumpkin.
“He’s gotten better each year”, said Collins”. “No one works harder on their game. There’s an added maturity to him….and its nice to have that on the team. He’s obviously gonna be a big scorer for us and thats gonna be a great role, but, he’s also gonna have some ball handling duties as well, which he was anxious to add to his game and give him a chance to have the ball in his hands and bring it up a little bit, so I think you’ll see him in that role a little bit as well”.
This trip will be a great opportunity for this team to get a head start on the season, playing against international competition. It will not only benefit the players, but it’ll also benefit Collins, who is entering his third season and is really starting the settle in with this group. He knows that there will be a sense of urgency for his seniors this season, but he is quick to temper the excitement surrounding the team.
“We wanna be a team that’s talked about in March, but to do that, you can’t skip steps along the way. It’s August right now and we don’t talk about March, we talk about what we’re doing for this Spain trip. I think teams can really hurt themselves if they get too far ahead. I tell our guys all the time, to me words like “upside” and potential”, the only thing that means is you haven’t done anything. And even though its exciting to hear positive things, we have a long way to go and we have a lot to prove and I want these guys to come to the gym everyday trying to get better, not only individually but as a team.”
The team takes off on August 22nd and returns on September 1st.