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October 19, 2017

Chris Collins

Madison Square Garden - New York, New York

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Northwestern head coach Chris Collins.

COACH COLLINS: It's good to see everyone. Always an exciting time of year to get going with the college basketball season, especially being here in New York City. Really looking forward to seeing what our group can become this year. We have a lot of continuity from veteran players that have been around, that have played a lot for the past two, three years together.

And it's been a big key to our success, especially with last year's team. So we have great leadership with Bryant McIntosh; Scottie Lindsey; Vic Law, who is a fourth-year junior; as well as Dererk Pardon, who is our returning big man who started all year last year.

So we have a core four that's really done a great job with this team so far in this summer and the fall of leading this group. And we have high aspirations of what we can become and we know it's going to be tough playing in the league. And we're excited to see what we can do.

Q. What sort of research have you done about having to transfer your home games to Allstate? Have you talked to anybody else who has gone through that, and what sort of arrangements have you made to try to enhance the atmosphere to what you get at home at Welsh-Ryan?
COACH COLLINS: Certainly it's going to be different this year not having an on-campus facility. Excited about what's coming down the pike. But for this year, logistically, it will be different.

I was able during the offseason to pick the brain of DePaul staff a little bit. Being around those guys, you see the coaches out on the road in the summer and during the recruiting period, just to get an idea from them, how did they approach the travel from campus out there. What did they do, what would they have done differently if they could? Things of that nature.

So we tried to get out there and practice a handful of times here in the early part of the season, just so the guys get a familiarity with that travel, with what the gym is like and new locker rooms, all those kind of things.

And I'm just relying on my older guys to be mature about it. And I've told them, like, we just have to make it our home. And it's going to be our home arena. I do believe that people are going to come out and watch this team.

I think the players that we have that they've watched in the past, it's a fun group to follow. It's a fun group to watch. I trust that our fans are going to come out and support us even though we're going to be 25, 30 minutes from campus.

We're just trying to do as much as we can in the preseason so that once it's for real, once the season starts, from a logistical standpoint we're not still scrambling which may distract us from playing good basketball on the court.

Q. I feel like there's a human-nature tendency sometimes when you achieve something special to maybe exhale or take a deep breath. What did you try to do as a coach to sort of combat that? And what did you see from your players in terms of their ability to do so this summer?
COACH COLLINS: Yeah, I think for the first time going into the summer, you know, our guys, even our staff, myself, you're going around, there's a lot of patting on the back. There's a lot of "Great job," "It was so fun," all those kind of things, which as a person you like hearing those things.

It's like you said, the human-nature quality in all of us. I think for me personally I can tell you when I came to Northwestern, the NCAA Tournament was a goal but it wasn't the end goal.

The end goal was to try to build a program that could be respected and could be relevant year in and year out. And we still have a lot to accomplish to get to that point.

I think having the senior class -- in particular, Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Gavin Skelly -- those guys I've sensed from them, although they loved what we did, loved being a part of the postseason for the first time in school history and all that came with it, they have one more year to kind of further enhance what their legacy is going to be in our program.

And so their leadership has been vital, the way they've approached the summer. And we don't talk about last year. I told the guys, like, there's nothing to talk about. Every team is different. Every season is different.

So even though we have a lot of players back, this is a new journey. It's a new group. Guys have gotten better. Some guys are going to take on new and different roles. And we have to figure out how we can become the best with this group.

And so that's kind of been our approach since the start of practice. And we can't sit back and rest on what we did or didn't do last year. It's time to get going with a new season, and we know it's going to be a tough league like it always has been.

And if you don't have that edge, if you don't have that chemistry, the fine line from winning and losing in this league is a very, very narrow margin.

So we know what our formula is and our guys know that we have to have those same qualities if we want to be successful this year.

Q. You mentioned -- that was a threshold for Northwestern to make that thing. What was going through your mind during the Michigan game, the Vanderbilt game, and especially really the Gonzaga game where your guys came back and you saw that they had something that Northwestern had never had before?
COACH COLLINS: I think the most pressure that we faced was at the very end of the regular season when we still felt we had work to do to get into the tournament. There was a lot of pressure on us that last week of the season. We were playing Michigan and Purdue at home, two of the better teams in our league, and probably the two hottest teams in our league.

And there was a lot of pressure on our players. And to see those guys rise to the occasion under that kind of pressure and to do what they had to do to win a big game like that to kind of ensure us to be part of the tournament for the first time was very gratifying as a coach, because really for us as coaches it's not about what we know, it's not about what we can do, it's about helping our guys being able to perform under pressure.

And that was as great a pressure as I probably ever have been a part of with a team, just with the media and the fan base and the alumni and everybody wanting it so bad.

And I knew the guys could feel it. For them to step up and meet that pressure and to win. And then to kind of stamp it, to go to the tournament, I thought we performed very well in the Big Ten Tournament. We went to the NCAA Tournament, had a good win over Vandy, and then to come back from a huge deficit and kind of show who we were all about with our fight in the second half against Gonzaga.

So it was a special team. It was a special group of guys. And I hope we can recreate some of what that group had with grit and toughness and will, because they had those qualities that made them good. And we're going to need that this year if we want to be successful in the Big Ten.

Q. Could you talk about your new protected in-state rivalry and what do you know about Brad Underwood?
COACH COLLINS: Well, I've known Brad for a long time. I mean, coaching and basketball circles are small. I've had a great respect. I admired everything he did at Stephen F. Austin. He goes to Oklahoma State and has a terrific year there.

He's an old-school basketball coach. He's very bright, very smart. He's going to do a great job at Illinois. He just falls in line. To me the coaches in this league are as good as it gets anywhere in the country when it comes to a conference. And Brad is certainly of that ilk, and he's going to do a great job.

I think it's important, I think they feel it's important at Illinois for us to play twice every year. I think it's a great thing for our state. It's a great thing for our conference.

I think with hopefully us -- for a long time it wasn't a heated rivalry and probably mostly because, and even my first couple of years, you know we didn't deserve to be in a rivalry like that. But now that we've gotten kind of better and improved as a program, I think any time two in-state teams can play twice in the conference, I think it's important for both schools.

And I know it's something that we're looking forward to. I think it's an important rivalry that I'm glad the conference was able to make that happen with the new schedule.

Q. Can you discuss how you're going to prepare your team for that week of the conference tournament being held a week before championship week?
COACH COLLINS: Yeah, I mean, you can't really think about that right now. I mean, you might have ideas, what you would do, but I think it's a great problem to have if you're still playing after the conference tournament. And for any of us to just kind of assume that that's going to be the case, I think, is wrong. Because we have a lot of work to do to be in a position where we are still playing.

And I think what you have to do at that point of the season, if you're lucky enough, at the end of that Big Ten Tournament here in New York, to still be playing in the postseason is understand where your team's at.

Are you a little bit banged up? Do you need to practice hard? Do you need to get guys healthy? And I think none of us are really going to know this at this point. I think what you all see is the conference season is as condensed and as rigorous as it's ever been in terms of logistically with more games and fewer days and less off days.

And so where is the health of every team at that point? And I think a big part of that at the end of the year is going to be getting your guys fresh and recharged and reenergized to play in the postseason if you're fortunate to be there.

And you've got to win during the year. And you've got to do enough to be in that discussion. So we're not talking about that at all right now, because we know that we're a long way from being in March. And I hope to be in that position. I hope to have that problem. I hope to figure out what we need to do for that couple of weeks to get the guys ready, because it means you're going to the NCAA Tournament.


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