Addressing the question marks

Brian Sumers

The Wildcats are sporting a 4-5 record midway through their Big Ten campaign and already have notched more conference victories than they did all last season.

But Bill Carmody, the team’s fourth-year head coach, isn’t celebrating yet. He constantly reminds the Cats of their goal this season: to finish in the top half of the conference standings.

The Cats are in eighth place, but they loom just one game behind Purdue, Iowa and Indiana, which are tied at fourth. If Carmody has his way, the Cats will sneak into the top of the pack. He recently sat down with The Daily to discuss NU’s prospects for the season’s second half.

Q: What are you most concerned about?

A: The thing that I’m not pleased with is our defense, and I haven’t been all year. When we’ve had some good wins, it’s been when we defended.

Q: What about the offense?

A: We’ve tried to get the ball inside, tried to get it in the post to Vedran (Vukusic) a lot, to Jitim (Young) a lot, but teams know that’s your strength. Somebody has to become a consistent outside shooter for us besides Vedran. Jitim was shooting very well for the first 10 games, but he hasn’t been shooting that well from outside.

Q: What has surprised you thus far?

A: I’m very happy that Vedran has remained healthy, pretty much. I’m just so happy that his shoulder is intact. He was a little rusty early on, but he’s been a consistently good player this year.

Q: What about Jitim?

A: It’s good to see that he’s just stayed the same type of guy he’s always been — a hard worker, his good leadership qualities — he’s very consistent and upbeat. That kid has given everything he’s had. He’s covered all the bases with work and preparation.

Q: You seem puzzled sometimes with the play of Mohamed Hachad. What’s going on?

A: I want him to play consistently well. He’s capable, I just want him to keep working, which he is doing. He’s got a good mind for the game, jumps, quickness. But I want him to do all the fundamental things. If he’s fundamentally sound and has all this athleticism, then you’ve got the whole package. I’m demanding of him because he’s a very capable kid. Sometimes you coach the guys who have the most talent the hardest. I want that guy to be good, and I’ve told him that. Some games, he’s been very good. I want him to be consistent.

Q: What’s this team’s weakness?

A: Smart guys don’t like body contact. Nobody likes getting hit in the mouth or getting an elbow or rubbing skin against skin — unless it’s some soul mate or something — and smart guys like it less than guys who aren’t that smart. I got a lot of smart guys, and I have to tell them: “You’ve got to get your noses in there.”

Q: Do you ever regret your hard-hitting sarcasm from the bench or in practice?

A: You have to figure out how you can get to some of these guys. I’ve always laid it on the line. I tell them what I see — the good and the bad. I try not to sugarcoat things. I try to praise them, and I think I do.

You have to have some sort of tension in practice. If I was just Captain Nice out there all the time, I don’t think that’s good, because then when they meet the tension in the game they just don’t know how to behave.

Q: On the bench during games, you’ve been very animated. Why?

A: It’s a game. I don’t think you can take the emotion out of this game. Sometimes I have to watch because I think too much, and I have to realize that this is an emotional game. I just think it’s important to have a balance between your brain and your heart. You’ve got to coach according to the way you are, your personality.

Q: When you watch the game tape and you see yourself yelling, do you ever ask yourself what you were thinking?

A: If I’m working to get to the refs, I’m doing it for a reason. I’m not doing it so I can jump around. I think the refs do a good job, but you have to let them know you’re there. The players need to see you’re working hard.

Q: How has Vince Scott taken to your coaching style? Are you pleased with the way he has progressed?

A: I’ve been ignoring him because I think he was getting too much attention. I’ve told him enough. … Now it’s up to him. I’ve seen some improvement in practice. I was hopeful we could bring him along in games as a freshman, give him some minutes, but it wasn’t working out.

Q: Have you started looking forward to next season? You’ve signed two recruits … how are they going to help the program?

A: Brandon Lee is a 6-foot-2 guard, a lefty, a good all-around player. He’s having an unbelievable year, and everyone is saying: “How’d we miss on this guy?”

And Sterling Williams is about 6-3, a guard, athletic, smart. Both these guys are smart guys in the classroom and on the court. They’ve got real good senses, they’ve played against good competition, they come from good programs. They’re both Illinois kids, which I like.

Q: You’re occasionally the object of some criticism. Do you ever feel any of it is warranted?

A: Anyone who has ever played basketball thinks they know it better than you do. If a carpenter came to my house, I wouldn’t tell him to use tenpenny nails instead of this, or use finishing nails on this. But anyone who has ever laced up a pair of sneakers, when they look at a game, they’re saying: “I can’t believe the guy is doing that.” But that’s part of the job.

Q: How has this season helped recruiting?

A: The thing that makes it hard is that there hasn’t been a great history of basketball success here. Now you have a kid like Michael Thompson who says he’s coming here. The more guys you get like that, the more it makes Northwestern a legitimate option for a kid who wants to play big-time basketball and get a degree from one of the best schools in the country.

Q: What has excited you the most this season?

A: I see the potential that we can do pretty well. I couldn’t say that when I first got here. We can have some success here — this year, next year, in the immediate future.

Q: Any advice for The Daily?

A: Just watch those Daily quotas, all right?