Basketball Notebook: McKeown, Collins speak on season preparations


(Joshua Hoffman/Daily Northwestern)

Coach Joe McKeown chats with the team during timeout. The 13-year Northwestern head coach signed a multi-year contract through the 2024-25 season to stay in Evanston.

Lawrence Price, Assistant Sports Editor

With Big Ten Basketball Media Day, the Chicago College Basketball Luncheon and tickets sales all underway, the 2021-22 Northwestern men’s and women’s basketball seasons are quickly approaching.

For the first time in nearly two years, both programs will see school spirit in the Welsh Ryan Arena stands as fans return to the root on the Wildcats from the stands for 34 regular season home games.

Both women’s coach Joe McKeown and men’s coach Chris Collins have expressed excitement for the return to normalcy. But each squad enters with roster additions, a new schedule and distinct goals. 

McKeown inks contract extension and readies for competitive season

The saying ‘13 down and 4 more to go’ holds true for McKeown. The women’s head coach signed a four-year contract extension through the 2024-25 season with NU on Oct. 8.

Entering his 14th season at the helm, McKeown holds a 224-186 record at the position, reaching the postseason play seven of the last 12 years. He not only sits 27 wins behind Don Perrelli (251 wins in 15 seasons) for most victories in program history, but will also be the program’s longest tenured coach. 

“To have the opportunity to coach at Northwestern for the next four years is really important to me and my family,” McKeown said. “Coaches don’t get to coach the same school for a long, long time anymore, so I think that’s a thing we are really appreciative of.”

McKeown’s contract renewal isn’t the only exciting part of the team coming back for at least another year — senior guard Veronica Burton will be the top returner. Winning back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards, McKeown described Burton as “one of the great guards of college basketball,” a claim he made for good reason.

Alongside her constant standout performances guarding opposing players, including her leading the country in steals (96), Burton stacked up 16.2 points, 4.9 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game last season. In June, she won a gold medal with the Women’s AmeriCup team. 

The Cats’ 2021 recruiting class ranked in the top 10 nationally, including four-star prospects Mercy Ademusayo, Hailey Weaver and Melannie Daley. With the incoming talent and current roster, McKeown and the Wildcats are ready to battle Big Ten competition. 

“A lot of our players are looking forward to competing again,” McKeown said. “We’re in the league of 14 teams that are so deep, last year we got I think seven in the NCAA tournament.”

Collins hopes for first winning season since 2017

A new season means a clean slate for NU men’s basketball.

The Cats finished last season with a 9-15 record, a 12th place Big Ten finish and a 13-game losing streak between December and February. To add to the losses, three-year starter Miller Kopp and captain Anthony Gaines transferred to Indiana and Siena, respectively.

Although the negatives build up, there is still optimism for coach Collins’ group. Besides Kopp and Gaines, NU returns each of its starters and key bench players. Able to keep most of the core group of ballers, Collins likes the improvements they have made and is proud of how the team has stuck together.

“We have really invested the last couple of years in a core group of players, and when you do that as young players, sometimes you go through some growing pains,” Collins said. “If you look at our roster now, we have a number of guys in their third and fourth years.”

NU flexes four players entering their fourth years of college ball – forward Pete Nance, center Ryan Young and guards Ryan Greer and Chase Audige. The core four are joined by other players such as junior guard Boo Buie, sophomore guard Ty Berry and junior forward Robbie Beran with big minutes under their belts.

Searching for its first winning season, Big Ten tournament victory and NCAA March Madness bid since 2017, NU will need to turn this wisdom into wins, first.

 “I am excited to coach this group,” Collins said. “They really want to win, they really want to get us back to that level of being a team that can play in the postseason.”

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