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October 13, 2016

Chris Collins

Washington, D.C.

CHRIS COLLINS: I'm sure, like all the coaches, excited to be here, excited to get started with the season. Looking forward to seeing what we can become as a team. Over the last couple years, we've played a lot of younger players and kind of watched them grow up. It's nice to have a little bit more of a veteran bunch. We understand each other pretty well, and preseason has gone well. So looking forward to seeing such a long year. Looking forward to seeing where this journey will take us and what we can become. We have high aspirations and feel like we have a chance to be competitive this year.

Q. You guys obviously lost Olah, Van Zegeren. What do you see the role of Barret Benson coming in and playing, and especially with Dererk Pardon, how do you see that fitting into the system?
CHRIS COLLINS: It's going to be key, our front line play is going to be key to our success this year. We have two guys that we're really high on. Dererk Pardon, who obviously hit the scene after we had planned to red-shirt him the first 11 games last year and decided to play him and he went for 28-12 in his first game on the road. So great decision by me.

Dererk coming into his sophomore year, I think he's ready to take that role on. Alex Olah has been such a constant in our program the last four years, three with me. So I think Dererk, and then Barret as a freshman, those two guys kind of tag team in that position inside. It's going to be key for us, because that's our youngest position. Dererk is a sophomore and Barret is a freshman, so I think it's going to be important for those guys to continue to learn, get experience, grow as a tandem. If they can give us solid play at that position, I think it's going to make us a much better team.

Q. Coach, the key to meeting those expectations, getting to the NCAA Tournament, what are they?
CHRIS COLLINS: Well, I think there's a number of factors that go into it. I think all of us as teams, and we certainly do, our aspirations coming into the season is to play in the postseason. To do that, I think the first thing is you can't skip steps along the way. I think you can't let your mind wander to March. I think you have to understand the games in November and December are just as important as the ones in late February and early March. So I think it's important that you get off to a good start with the beginning of the season and play well in the non-league. We have a veteran perimeter that we're going to rely on. Health is always an issue. For us last year, I thought we were in really good position. We lost Vic Law who was a key component to what we were going to do for the whole season. Alex Olah had a broken foot and missed four or five Big Ten games, which was tough for us.

So any team, you've got to rely on good health, which, knock on wood.

I just want to see improvement as the season goes along. Fortunately, if you look at our teams the past couple years, I feel like we've gotten better as the season has gone along. I think our guys have continued to embrace that. We've improved. We've played our best basketball at the end of the season the last couple seasons.

So I think we just have to navigate the journey well, and there's no question everyone's excited about where we're at, where we're headed, and we're looking forward to kind of staying the course. Not getting too high or too low. But just staying the course and the journey, and hopefully being there at the end of the day.

I know our guys, that's our goals, and it's something that, in order for us to do, we're going to have to -- and I think winning close games. I mean, you guys know, you cover this league. There are so many close games in this conference. The coaching is so good, the players are so good, the environments. Each of us can probably look back on our seasons at the end and say there are five or six games that we either won or lost that were in the balance that determined if we were a postseason team or not. And for us, that's going to be a key thing for us. Are we going to be tough enough in those last five minutes of close games in our conference to find a way to get wins.

Q. You took a lot of criticism last year for the nature of the schedule that you built. I know there was a strategy to that. Did you get out of it what you wanted to get, in terms of building the culture? Do you think this group is ready for the stronger challenges that you're presenting to them this year?
CHRIS COLLINS: Yeah, I think scheduling, people don't realize everything that goes into scheduling for everyone. It's such an important component to what we do to try to build your team up and play enough good games and build a resumé. For us last year, we felt like it was a schedule that was going to help that team grow and get better and gain confidence. For us, we were almost -- if you look at it, we were like the most chocked team in America, I think, last year. If you look at what we did in non-league and league, we had one loss in the non-conference to North Carolina. All of the other games we were able to win.

In the conference, we're 8-10. Every team that finished below us, with the exception of one game, we won, and every team that finished above us we lost except for one game. So we kind of were who we were, and that doesn't happen very often.

So where we were, right in the middle of the pack there, that's who we were, and now we've got to find a way to try to climb a couple steps up. I think we have more experience this year, which helps. So I think adding some of the games we did in the non-conference, playing out of Butler, playing Dayton in the United Center, the tournament we're playing in Brooklyn early in the season in November with Texas, Notre Dame, and Colorado, those are going to present some great challenges for our team.

I think with the amount of veterans we have coming back, those are games that we're going to need to test us to see where we're at, and hopefully find a way to win some of those as we head into the conference.

Q. You mentioned injuries were a bit of a problem for the team last year. We already saw that Rap is out for the season, and you have Vic Law coming back. How do you see Vic fitting back into the system, and how do you see Rap rebounding in the future from missing his freshman year?
CHRIS COLLINS: Yeah, we never like to see anyone get hurt, especially college athletes, because they only have a short window to play in college. So when you lose a guy for the season, I hate it. Just because the good part about it is he has the opportunity to hopefully gain a medical red-shirt and get healthy. I think for all young players, you can see it in football all the time, it can never hurt for a freshman to come in and learn and see what it's all about and get physically stronger, mentally stronger, kind of pick up everything. So I think we're going to try to use it as a positive for Rapolas. He has a big upside, and we have high expectations for his career. So we're going to use it as a positive and have him come back next year and be ready to roll.

In Vic's case, Vic is a key guy for us and was a big loss last year. He's a jack-of-all-trades type of player. He's going to be a guy that does a little bit of everything. He can be a double-figure scorer, I think, for us. But he's a very good rebounder. He can be a versatile defender. He's a playmaker, and that should take some pressure off of McIntosh to have somebody else who can make some plays for us. He's a very good shooter. He just does a little bit of everything, which, with those guys, you need -- 6'7", long, athletic type of guy that's versatile. So we're excited to have him back. He's excited, obviously. Anytime you miss a whole season, he's champing at the bit to get back out there, and he's hungry. For us to be a good team, we're going to need good play out of Vic Law, for sure.

Q. Coach, what were your thoughts when you saw Bryant McIntosh wasn't named a preseason All-Big Ten type of player? Were you kind of shocked by that decision?
CHRIS COLLINS: I mean, sure. We're biased. I wouldn't trade Bryant for any other guard in college basketball. I love the kid. He's been with me since day one. He committed to us and has been there, and we've given him the ball as a freshman. He's done nothing but get better and better every year. I try to stay away from that outside stuff. Anytime things are voted on or so, people have opinions, and that's great, but at the end of the day, it's about what you do on the court.

So I try to tell our guys, and I live by it too, you get what you earn. So if we waste time getting fired up about guys being named All League, Preseason, or any of those things, it's wasting time and energy away from us getting better and staying at the task at hand. So we know what we have in Bryant. Bryant is an elite player, an elite point guard at the college level. He runs our team. He's one of the top assist guys returning, makes big plays, makes big shots. He's a junior now. I love the fact that he's the guy running my team. And I'll take him any day of the week. He'll get what he deserve -- if we win, then individual accolades come. That's the way I've always approached it. There is credit for everybody if you win. That's kind of the approach that we have. I know Bryant has that too. He's not worried about all that stuff. He just wants to play basketball and try to produce a winning team out there.

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