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March 15, 2017
Salt Lake City, Utah
Q. I don't want to make you feel old, but five and a half years, over five and a half years since you committed here. How do you feel you've grown in those five years?
SANJAY LUMPKIN: It has been an unbelievable ride, I've been here since 2012. It's awesome to be here now and be a 5th year senior, captain of the team. I feel like I've seen these guys grow, and it's rewarding for me to see that. I feel I've definitely grown as a player. I've progressed every season, and I feel I've grown most as a leader, and being there for the younger guys and being that rock of the team. And doing whatever is necessary for us to win.
Q. Have you been practicing your "act like you've been there before" faces?
BRYANT McINTOSH: How are we doing? (Laughter.)
No, I think we're just trying to take all this in and enjoy the moment. But after the celebration on Selection Sunday it was time for us to get back to work and prepare to win a game. So I think that's kind of where our focus has been. So maybe we are locked in and we don't seem too excited. But deep down we are. We're enjoying it.
SANJAY LUMPKIN: I would say for all of us, we're obviously enjoying the moment, and enjoying this opportunity that we have now right in front of us. And we can't take it for granted. It may never come again. It won't come for me, because this is my last season. Everyone has to enjoy this while we're here. Now that we're here we have to work and know we want to stay here.
Q. Now that you've been there the whole time, but what kind of change has Coach Collins brought to you and the turnaround for you guys?
SANJAY LUMPKIN: It started right away when he first got to the program. I knew it was evident that Coach was going to change the entire program. It started with the first day he got here, his passion and the belief he instilled in all of us. I can confidently say that's why we're here today. And it took a group of committed guys, it's a long road, not everyone made it. It took guys to believe in him and believe in everything that we had going. And it was -- it was an awesome ride. Being here now has made everything that was put into it so worth it. So many people have done a lot of things for it.
And we're not just doing this for ourselves and for our team. We're doing it for everyone that also has something to do with it. All the people like Jim Stack, Billy McKinney, Drew Crawford, so many guys like that, that were part of the foundation for this program. And we always want to finish everything off right.
Q. Just curious, given the fact that this has been the stated goal for so long, it's the reason that each one of you committed, obviously, to different coaches. But what does it feel like to have climbed that mountain, to have achieved that goal that you thought about every day, that you talked about every day and that everyone collectively was working toward?
SANJAY LUMPKIN: I would say it was, first of all, surreal for a lot of us to hear our name called. We all came here to be a part of a different Northwestern, and be a part of history. And we achieved that goal. And now that we are here we want to do everything we can to stay here. And this is not just the angle for Northwestern basketball, we see this as the starting point, a new standard that can be set for our program. It's been a magical season, it's been awesome, none of us want to see the season end.
BRYANT McINTOSH: I think we can't emphasize enough that this isn't the end goal. It's one of our goals to make the tournament, but we're not just satisfied to be here. We're going to go out and try and win a game and continue playing, playing for our lives, just to continue the season on. So it's been such a special year that you don't want to see it end. And that's why it's just a single goal and not the end goal.
Q. What's the best advice that you've gotten this week in terms of how to deal with all the hype that's surrounding this since you arrived here?
SANJAY LUMPKIN: I think the best advice was what Coach Collins told us, he talked about Dan Marino and how when they lost in the Super Bowl how they thought that they were going to get back there many times and that they were going to have many opportunities, many chances and they never made it back.
Coach talked about how we have an opportunity right in front of us and we just have to take it. And we may never get to this point. You can't take anything for granted. And we all can put everything we have left in the tank into this. Everyone is invested into this. You have to give it everything we have.
BRYANT McINTOSH: And on top of that it's just enjoying the moment. That's a lot what the talk has been about. It's so hard to get here, obviously, especially for our program never being here, just enjoy the moment, don't -- be locked in and try to prepare and win games, but also enjoy what you've accomplished and take it all in.
Q. Obviously you guys haven't played a game yet, but what have you done to experience this NCAA tournament? What are you doing to keep your minds off of the actual game in that regard?
SANJAY LUMPKIN: So we flew in yesterday and we were able to get a practice in. It was great to just get away from everything at Northwestern. Obviously it's been a great atmosphere and everything, but there has been a lot of media, a lot of distraction. Get up here, get focused and locked into what we have going on here. We've just been locked in on the game. And we had some time to prepare for tomorrow. And we're just fully locked in.
Q. How would you guys characterize the matchup against Vanderbilt? There appears to be some similarities between the two schools. What are you guys seeing?
BRYANT McINTOSH: Yeah, they're a really disciplined team. They execute their defenses similar to the way we defend. So it will be a lot like playing ourselves or a very good team, and they give us -- they could give us a lot of problems with the way they shoot the ball. They're a very skilled three-point shooting team, one through five. So we've compared it to guarding a team like a Michigan, in our league, just looking for similarities.
But we have a tough task on our hands and just looking for the ball to be tipped off and kind of get it rolling. I think we're all just excited. We've prepared really well and now we're just ready to go play.
Q. Obviously Northwestern's reputation as an academic school, we all know it. What kind of things would you imagine you have to deal with that maybe the average guy in another Big Ten school maybe doesn't?
SANJAY LUMPKIN: I would say academically Northwestern is extremely challenging. We have guys right now that are working on getting extensions to their finals or typing papers, because we're on the quarter system, so our finals are during this week. And I would say that's a challenge that not everyone has to face.
But Northwestern prepares us right. They take care of us with tutors, they get us help. They do everything possible to allow us to focus on basketball as much as we can. But we try to do the best in both categories. It's definitely something that is a little different at Northwestern, but it doesn't affect how we play.
BRYANT McINTOSH: Yeah, building off that, you can't give enough credit to our academic advisors and our athletic department and trying to help us as much as they can with our schoolwork, especially during this week. This is a tough week for us with our finals. And then obviously all this attention and media and preparation going into this week and weekend. So can't give enough credit to them. And now it's just our job to do the work and prepare to do something special.
Q. It's been a long-held notion, I don't know if it's true that point guards are -- this is the time for them to shine. As you grew up watching the tournament, was it part of your dream to not only participate but have the ball in your hands, to close the game with free throws, to be that point guard? And do you recall any particular guys, in that vein, who really meant a lot to you as you grew up in the game?
BRYANT McINTOSH: Yeah, I think that is the narrative in this tournament is the point guard play can win you games and take you far. And I always look to the recent guys, Ryan Arcidiacono, Marcus Paige was also a good one, but also you look at the smaller schools, C.J. McCollum, like just good guard play, that was able to win. I took a lot from Jon Scheyer at Duke, when they won the national championship, I thought he played well during the whole tournament.
That is something you dreamed about, and having the ball in your hands. And it's something that Coach Collins expects me to be able to do is help us finish a game and make the right plays and make winning plays. So it's an exciting time. It's not a lot of pressure on me. We have a really good team. But obviously I'm the guy that wants the ball in my hands at the end of the game.
Q. Vanderbilt has been shooting lights out, big guys, little guys. How critical is perimeter defense, and how much of a challenge do they present?
SANJAY LUMPKIN: All their guys, I think we talked about their starters all had 40-plus 3's. And a lot it obviously comes from their shooting ability, but a lot it comes with guarding the ball. They like to get in the paint and kick it out for 3's. And we have to be extremely disciplined guarding the perimeter and have great communication. There's going to be a lot of people in the stands tomorrow and we're going to have to talk some things out.
BRYANT McINTOSH: I would agree with that. Our communication is going to be very important and vital if we're going to be able to win this game just because they can give us a lot of difficulties with their five man that can stretch the floor and knock down open 3's, and also their guards. We have to do a great job on the ball, keeping them out of the paint. And it's going to be a tough task.
But defense wins championships, right? So that's the one thing we've talked about in the locker room is our defense has to be really good in order for us to move on in this tournament.
Q. Bryce talked about recruiting in the early process. What do you recall about that experience?
BRYANT McINTOSH: Terrific coach and runs a great system. He's one of the household names in Indiana, obviously, with his shot. And just also as a high school basketball player. It was really special to hear from him and was never able to take a visit, was scheduled a couple, and was never able to get on campus, just conflict with our schedules. But, yeah, just being able to hear from him was special, Indiana guy, like I said. Yeah, it's kind of odd that you're going to play against a guy like that in the NCAA tournament.
Q. I know this can be your final game. How does the preparation change and how does it stay the same?
SANJAY LUMPKIN: You know, knowing it could be my final game doesn't really change anything for me. I prepare the same as I would for any game. Obviously I know that that's a possibility. But just play as a regular game. You can't get out of character. You can't do anything crazy because it could be my last game, just stay in my role and leave it all out there. If I know I left it all out there and did whatever I can do, I've got to live with that. And whatever the result may be, just enjoy it. Just enjoy it.
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: Well, it goes without saying we're really excited to be here, really proud of this team. We've earned our way in here by the way we've played this year. And just excited to play against a really tough, well-coached, good Vanderbilt team.
To me there's a lot of similarities in the two teams. You've got good kids who play hard, play together. And if you look at their body of work, especially over the last month of the season, they've played some outstanding basketball with some big-time wins. We know what's going to be ahead of us. They're very disciplined, they spread you out. They can really shoot the ball. And they feast on teams that make mistakes against them, especially defensively. If you don't communicate well, if you're not locked in, they're going to find the open guy, especially at the 3-point line they can be devastating when they get it going from there.
It's going to be a tough challenge tomorrow, but our guys, we've had a couple of days to really lock in on preparation, kind of get through the hoopla and the excitement of all the selection show and things like that and get back to work on the practice floor, and we're here to try to win the game. And we know what's at stake. You've got to be at your best this time of year because everyone is really good.
Q. Bryce said you and he saw each other in a Cubs World Series game, I guess that would be game 4. Recall that moment if you can, and what your relationship is with him.
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: Bryce and I have been friends for a long time. I've known him since he's been in high school. I've known his family, his father, someone I really respect. I've known his brother, obviously, too. We have a lot in common. So we've always kind of connected because we come from basketball families. Our dads were coaches. We grew up in gyms and the game. So we've always connected on that level and gotten along really well.
It was pretty funny, actually, I don't think he recognized me at first, because I had a full uniform on that night. He was dressed all nice, he had a nice shirt on and slacks. I had my Cubs jersey on, my hat on backwards, and maybe some eye black on. He did a double take when I went and said hello to him. It was pretty funny. We were with our wives. I wish we would have taken a group photo if we would have known this was going to happen. We each took our photos with our wives with Clark the Cub. Gave each other a hug, and said, Go Cubs, and kept it moving. It's funny to think about that now.
Q. Back to the connection between you and Bryce. I asked him, for you being a first-time head coach, does it ever become -- your dad is involved, but has he ever become too involved or how is that situation for him with so much experience and input that he's had on you, like your first mentor and being a head coach?
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: Yeah, it's actually -- I've been very fortunate, my personal experiences with my dad is, at the end of the day he wants to be my dad. He's had a great way, if he ever senses that he's overstepping his bounds, he backs off. If he does come to practice he's never on the floor. He goes up in the seats. And when practice is over, our guys go and talk to him and listen to all the old stories. He's kind of like the grandpa to all of them, which he loves. He's been great. He never tries to do anything with X's and O's.
The thing that he's really helped me with is the program building. For my dad, every situation he took over in the NBA was a rebuild, was a team that was struggling, that needed to change a culture, and find a winning attitude and winning way. So he had great advice with those things, the things we've had to do over the past four years to get ourselves to that winning mindset.
I'm very fortunate that at the end of the day he's my dad. When I played he didn't try to coach me. He always tried to get me around really good coaches because he didn't want to do anything to upset the father/son relationship. And I think because of that our relationship is great. And I really admire him the way he's handled me with those things. He'll be here tomorrow, which is exciting.
Q. Obviously you had a lot of things you needed to change at Northwestern. I know it's a really strong academic school. So what were the advantages and disadvantages of that as you try to build a program?
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: I tried to really focus when I first took over on the advantages versus the disadvantages. Obviously we had some disadvantages. There wasn't a history of winning and tradition. And we were in the process of kind of -- which we are doing now, redoing all of our facilities and all those things. And maybe the perception of the program wasn't that great when it came to basketball.
But I tried to focus on the things that were positive: The fact we were in the Big Ten. The fact we were at a great academic school that could offer the best of both worlds for young men out there. And also where we are right outside of Chicago. The resources of what the city brings and the beautiful campus. I thought we had a lot to kind of build off of that.
Then it was our mission to change the mindset of what people thought of Northwestern basketball. And there had to become a culture of work. That was the first thing. I wanted to have guys that wanted to be great basketball players and great students. There's no reason -- why can't you want both? So that's what we wanted. We wanted guys that wanted to be at a place like Northwestern for everything that it had to offer, not just the academics, not just the basketball, but both.
And fortunately for us we were able to go out in the first year and get a great core of guys that have represented the foundation of our program, with Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey, and Gavin Skelly. And we've built off of them with the two seniors of Taphorn and Lumpkin. And little by little you see some of the changes occur. And it doesn't happen overnight.
And the hardest part during the whole thing was the last thing that kind of turns the corner are the wins and losses. There were so many wins I was seeing behind the scenes with how our guys were working, training, their attitudes, commitment, but we couldn't get over the hump with the wins. And it really took into last year with the 20-win season and then carry over into this year to kind of really get over the hump with learning how to win in tough situations and big moments.
Q. I wanted to talk a little bit about the altitude. Obviously playing in the Big Ten you don't get an opportunity that much to play in this kind of altitude. Has that changed your approach to practice? Is there anything that your staff is doing extra with the guys to counteract that?
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: We're trying to keep them as hydrated as possible. We have a great team of trainers and doctors that are on top of that. I think the main thing was we were able to get out yesterday afternoon, we were able to get a good workout in. I thought our guys, long flight, it really helped us for today. And I think it will really help us for tomorrow being able to get in here and get our feet underneath us, get a good sweat, get a good workout, kind of take all that in.
I think after a couple of days I don't think it's as big a factor. And especially if you don't let it be a factor. I think a lot of times some of that can be a mindset. This time of year you shouldn't let anything cloud your mind, what can be a distraction towards playing really well, because in an NCAA tournament format you've got to play at your best and you've got 40 minutes, and if you don't, you're going home. There's a sense of urgency on every possession.
Q. Vic has mentioned when he committed he had people asking why did you pick Northwestern, and I'm sure you had some of that when you took the job. Has it felt like vindication for you guys, to those people who were questioning why you could do this?
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: I don't know if it's vindication. In my heart I always believed that this could be really good. I just did. I grew up 10, 15 miles from the campus. I've been on the campus, I knew it was gorgeous. I played my final high school game in that arena. And it was packed. It was sold out. It was an electric atmosphere. And I always thought with the location, the kind of school, I just thought if you kind of got the right guy in there and you could get the right players, I thought it could become something special, I did. And maybe a lot of people didn't.
But I believed. And my mission was to go out -- I can't play anymore. All I can do is stand over in the sideline and call plays and run practices. I needed to find players that believed the way I did. And Vic was the first guy, and it was a monumental recruit for us, he was a local product, Chicago kid. It kind of instantly he had a perception in the city of being a very good prospect, recruit, was recruited by a lot of top programs. For him to have the courage to say, You know what, I see something in this coach, I see something in this program, it really got the ball rolling for us to start what we've been able to build over the last four years.
Q. Obviously they talk about wanting to win, and I get that. Obviously you're not here just to be here. But what does it mean to be here? The fact that you had this uphill slog for four years trying to do something that so many people told you couldn't be done and now you have arrived. What are the emotions you went through stepping off the plane with these kids yesterday?
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: It's special. I said it on Sunday afterwards, for all of us, I mean how many times in any of our lives do you get a chance to do something historical that has never, ever been done. And these guys have. This group has. They were the first ones. And hopefully -- to me it's not an end game. I talk about that, too. I want this to be the beginning of our program. And hopefully the sign of more success and more NCAA tournaments.
But there's no question, the first time is special. The first selection show you watch when you see your name, it's special. And I want them to be excited. I want them to feel that they've done something really good. And the thing I love about this group, though, is once kind of all that passed from Sunday into Monday, they've really locked into wanting to win here. They don't just want to be here and show up and go home. It's nice to be invited to the party. It's nice to be invited to the Dance. You want to stay a while. To do that you have to go out and win.
I think we're going to get reflective when it's all over. Right now you're in a whirlwind, you're practicing, preparing, getting ready to play. I think when this is all done, whenever that may be, we hope to extend it as far as we can. I think that's when we can all really get reflective and really be proud of the accomplishments that this team did, a lot of historical moments, a lot of milestones that have never happened at our school in our history.
Q. So Bryant was talking about how you actually have players who were working on final papers this week. Are you aware of that pressure? How real is the challenge? And how have you been able to manage the biggest week of their athletic careers with the academic reality?
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: With us we're on a quarter system academically, so this is finals week. Fortunately, a lot of our players, there are a couple of guys that have exams, but most of the guys are final papers. So on the plane, on our off time, we have our academic advisor here working with the guys. They're students, too. That's the reality of this, they're student-athletes. So trying to manage getting them their rest, and getting schoolwork and locking into game prep, it's something we talked about since they were -- we were selected on Sunday. Something I admire about these guys. You are in a place you have to go to school, and so does Vanderbilt. This is a great school. These guys have to go to class, write the papers and take the tests. And our guys are diligent about wanting to do well in school.
It has been a different week for me, my experiences, a lot of these schools are on spring break right now. And that was always my experience when I was at Duke. So this has been different for me, as well, trying to manage all that. But I've been really proud about how our guys have done this week. We'll be ready to go. They'll be rested. We'll get a good night's sleep tonight and be ready whenever the tip is tomorrow.
Q. It's not your first time on the podium at a press conference. I wonder if it's your first time at an NCAA tournament podium. Did you do it as a player?
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: Player.
Q. Not as an assistant coach?
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: No.
Q. What do you remember about that day, that time in your life, how you felt, how it felt to sit up there and be a spokesman?
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: Well, it's exciting. It's what you dream about as a kid. At the end of the day, too, I still have a lot of little kid in me. Like wearing my jersey at the Cubs World Series game. I think it's one of my strengths. When I was a kid every year whenever the tournament came out I would write up the brackets and I would go outside by myself and play the whole game, I would announce all the teams, I knew every player. Every game came down to a buzzer shot. I would play the whole tournament for hours.
My dream in life was to be a part of this. I always wanted to be on one shining moment. When I was a player that was one of my biggest dreams, maybe I could be on that video one day.
Going through it as a player, especially in '94 we went to the National Championship game, I was a starter on a team. Going through the rounds and see the media grow and the excitement and the open practices. Those were dreams come true. And I'm sure it is for a lot of our guys right now. For them to be up here. And for them to do the open practice soon, and be out there with people here. It's things you dream of as a kid and I think that's a good thing. I think that's very healthy and it's very positive. And that's why you do it. That's why you work hard, to be in these moments and hopefully see your hard work pay off.
Q. You mentioned how your guys handle things so well. Obviously there's going to be nerves tomorrow. Do you feel you have to do anything, say anything to kind of calm that, like Hoosiers, measure the basket? It's the same stage, guys, it's all the same.
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: I'll play that by ear. I've been a coach to coach on instincts and gut feel. You need to take the temperature of your team, if they're really fired up, if you see they're ready, you say less. If you feel they're a little bit jittery or quiet in the locker room, maybe you do a bit more rah-rah.
I'll feel that out tomorrow, as we get up, as we get over and take the temperature of the locker room and see where they're at. We do have great leadership. We do have veterans.
But every team in the NCAA has nerves. I don't care who you are, what your seed is. Everybody is a little bit nervous. It's important in the beginning of the game can you find a way to get a layup. Can you get a turnover to see the ball -- something to break the ice, where, okay, now we're playing ball. There's no question that first minute, for all these kids on every team -- I remember as a player your heart's in your throat. You get tired really quick because you're nervous energy. And after a couple of possessions you settle in and you kind of forget about where you are, you're just playing basketball. And hopefully we'll be able to do that quickly and get off to a good start tomorrow.
Q. The first guy that you hugged after selection was Sanjay. What has he meant not only for you and then for the program overall, what has he meant?
COACH CHRIS COLLINS: Sanjay is our rock. And he's such a selfless guy. You look at our stats, he's never going to be the leading scorer, the stats aren't going to jump off the page, but he's an indispensable part of our team. He brings his effort, his heart, his emotion, every time he steps on the floor.
And for five years -- when I first got here, even before Taphorn got here he was there when we started those spring workouts when I first got the job in April of 2013. And so when this all started he was there and I am so happy that he's a captain on the first team that's been able to do this because he deserves it, because he's put everything of himself into this program. He's put his individual agenda aside in order for us to win, to be a stopper, to be a rebounder, to be a glue guy. I'm just so proud of him. I love him. And it's been a great five years having him on my side.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports