Men’s Basketball: Athletic Director Jim Phillips talks NCAA Tournament, Welsh-Ryan Arena sendoff

Daily Sports Staff

Prior to Northwestern’s visit to the Big Ten Tournament, The Daily spoke with athletic director Jim Phillips, who has led the department since 2008. With the men’s basketball team on the verge of making history, Phillips discussed their special season and a number of other topics. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily: Northwestern’s season finale against Purdue was a pretty special moment. Did you ever envision something like that coming into the season?

Phillips: It started four years ago when we decided to make a change in our coaching staff. And when Chris (Collins) and I met in Atlanta, I think we shared a very similar vision for Northwestern basketball, what it could be like. To this point (Purdue) is the closest that we’ve been to that dream coming true — relative to a home crowd and home court college basketball venue that we had both hoped we could get it to. It was pretty spectacular.

The Daily: Has there been a specific highlight that stands out to you in this past season?

Phillips: The moment (against Purdue) was special. Obviously, the dramatic conclusion to the Michigan game and what that meant. When we went to Nebraska early in the year, Nebraska was undefeated (in conference) and we gave out a big run right before the half. That was one of those moments, when we came back in the second half, that I thought to myself, ‘this team’s got it, this team has a chance to potentially do something special.’

The Daily: Are there any specific players you’ve enjoyed watching grow this year?

Phillips: All of them. Really, because this is the ultimate team sport. And they all need to provide some type of leadership. They all have a role within the team, and they all do it remarkably well. So it doesn’t matter if you’re Charlie Hall and Tino Malnati, you have to bring energy to every practice and be uplifting to the guys, keep them positive. Or, if you’re Aaron Falzon and Rapolas Ivanauskas, and you’re injured and you have to play your role. Or if you’re Jordan Ash or Barret Benson or any of the guys coming off the bench, of if you’re one of the starters, everybody has a role and responsibility. And so to me, that’s been the beauty of this. It hasn’t been because of one person. It hasn’t been because of a couple people. It’s been because of the entire team.

The Daily: With Welsh-Ryan set to undergo renovation, is there anything you’ll miss about the old Welsh-Ryan? Do you have a favorite Welsh-Ryan memory?

Phillips: When I think about the renovation, is that we get a chance to still keep some of the past and still keep some of the uniqueness of a facility like Welsh-Ryan, but modernize it. So, I think we’re getting the best of both worlds coming up, which I’m excited about. The most special moment, from a men’s basketball perspective is (the Michigan game). That’s the moment I’ll always remember.