Men’s Basketball: Northwestern puts emphasis on becoming a family during new season


Daily file photo by Luke Vogelzang

Northwestern celebrates during its win over Michigan last season. The Wildcats spent this offseason trying to become closer than they were in years past.

Sam Krevlin, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

When senior guard Tre Demps took Heather John to be his lawfully wedded wife last June, he made sure to invite his teammates to the ceremony. Senior center Alex Olah, who attended the reception, said he took pride in watching his teammate take the next step in his adult life.

“It meant a lot to Tre for us to be there,” Olah said. “It was a big day for him and for us. It was so good to be there and support him.”

The pressure surrounding coach Chris Collins and his team to make the NCAA tournament has brought the Wildcats closer than ever before. All the players and Collins wear wristbands with just one word: family.

After Demps’ wedding and later in the summer, the team boarded a flight on Aug. 22 to Madrid where it would spend the next 10 days traveling through Spain playing five exhibition games against professional teams and visiting historical landmarks like La Sagrada Familia. Olah said the Spain trip was important for the integration of freshmen both on and off the court.

“When I was a freshman, I didn’t have that chance to go overseas and I just jumped into the season and I was scared,” Olah said. “We learned how to play together and we were able to integrate the freshman and they did great.”

Collins said the Spain trip was a chance to experiment with lineups. He was able to test various defensive and offensive sets as well as get a better feel for in-game situations. Collins also alluded to the camaraderie, which he said has been a work in progress since he took the head coaching job three years ago.

After three years, Collins said the team is finally getting an identity. The players are starting to buy into his philosophy and take ownership on and off the court, he said. Once he saw Olah speak up in the locker room or see Demps show leadership on the court, he knew good things were in motion, he said.

The seniors, who Collins inherited prior to the 2013-2014 season, welcomed the coach right from the start. It was important, Collins said, to create close ties with existing players in the program to foster a sense of family.

“I’m very lucky that they embraced me,” Collins said. “It was very important for the first order of business to gain relationships with them. Recruiting in the future was obviously going to be a big part of everything, but it wasn’t going to mean anything if I didn’t lock arms with the guys who were already in the program.”

But even with Collins eager to build a relationship with the guys in Evanston, he said the team needed to play in close games to build camaraderie and gain valuable experience.

Collins said the type of adversity NU faced in games last January will be an important experience going into this season. During a two-week stretch in January last season, the Cats lost five games in a row to Michigan State, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State and Maryland. All games were decided by eight points or fewer including an overtime loss to Michigan State. The family mentality will hopefully pay off when times get rough, Demps said.

“We have a lot of different personalities and guys from different backgrounds,” Demps said. “But we are really starting to buy into winning and being together. Everybody can approach anyone or talk to anybody. It’s going to pay dividends in the season.”

One thing is for sure: whether or not the season ends when the Cats’ run in the Big Ten Tournament is over, or in the NCAA tournament, Collins said the seniors are going to be the guys that he talks about with future teams as he builds the program.

He said he has taken pride in watching their development. Over the past three years, the players have connected not just to their teammates but also to their school.

“There is going to be no one who is more upset about leaving Northwestern than (Alex Olah),” Collins said. “He loves Northwestern.”

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