Men’s Basketball: Collins enters third year with two seniors to lean on


Daily file photo by Brian Lee

Senior guard Tre Demps and senior center Alex Olah run the pick-and-roll. The two seniors will be counted on as leaders for a young NU team this season.

Sam Krevlin, Reporter

CHICAGO — When coach Chris Collins became Northwestern’s basketball coach in 2013, he inherited two “projects” in center Alex Olah and guard Tre Demps. Now seniors, Olah and Demps have made significant strides on the court and hope to lead the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

Unsure if he was good enough to play at the collegiate level, Olah entered Collins’ office for the first time in 2013 with his head down and tears in his eyes. Collins saw the willpower behind those tears and was determined to have Olah walk with his head held high.

“He sat in my office and he said, ‘Coach, help me become a player. I want to be good. Just work with me, and I’ll do whatever it takes,’” Collins said.

Two years later, Olah averaged 11.7 points and seven rebounds per game. However, Collins said he believes this season Olah can produce double-doubles consistently and be a top-tier center in the Big Ten.

During Collins’ first week on the job, he would look outside his office and routinely find Demps shooting from morning until night. Demps, whom Collins calls an introvert, was sometimes misconstrued as selfish. However, Collins said he believed Demps had the work ethic to inspire his teammates.

“I used to look out and see him shooting, and I would say, ‘I know we will get to where we need to get to when there is more than one guy out there with him,’” Collins said. “This summer I saw five or six guys come in working on their games. That’s the impact he made.”

Demps still prides himself on being the first one in the gym and the last one out. He sees himself as a role model for the new players on the team, including freshman forward Aaron Falzon, a highly regarded recruit, who was ranked 75 in the ESPN recruiting rankings.

“I can be that example to other guys,” Demps said. “An example of integrity. Somebody who comes in every day and works hard and competes and does the right things on and off the court. It takes a certain type of person to have the mental toughness to play at Northwestern.”

Demps’ hard work and Olah’s progression as a big man have NU in a more positive position than when Collins first took the job.

Although Collins realizes the team is on an upward trajectory, he said he doesn’t want to put the pressure on this Cats team to make the NCAA tournament.

“It’s not on this current team’s shoulders to feel the pressure day in and day out of playing for however many years it’s been (without) going to the NCAA tournament,” Collins said.

The type of competitiveness Collins brings to NU is a completely different philosophy than what Olah and Demps were used to with former coach Bill Carmody.

“Every coach has their style,” Olah said. “Coach Collins’ style is to win. The whole program changed when he got here.”

Olah and Demps represent the foundation of the Collins era. The culture and atmosphere Collins wanted to establish has been carried out by these two players and will last for years to come, Collins said.

“They are my guys,” Collins said. “I don’t view them as players from another regime or coaching staff. They are going to be the guys that I talk about with future teams.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @samkrevlin