Phillips aims to keep it together

Jim Phillips spoke on Thursday evening after firing head coach Bill Carmody. He emphasized that while the search will rage on, his focus remains on the current players and incoming recruits.

After firing Bill Carmody, athletic director Jim Phillips faced an onslaught of questions at his Saturday evening press conference.

In the wake of his decision, rumors began to course through social media. Many expressed concern regarding 2013 recruits Nate Taphorn and Jaren Sina. Others opined that star player Drew Crawford might transfer for his senior year, as he would not be required to sit out for the entire season.

Phillips understands the difficulties his next head coach will face, but he refused to give an inch in the approximately 15-minute session. For now, the emphasis is squarely on his effort to keep the team intact. That begins, in part, with the talented pair of recruits.

"I'm going to have a chance to speak to them tonight," Phillips said. "… What I hope they realize is that this is a place that would welcome them. They would have a chance to be part of the Northwestern family… There are an awful lot of good things to sell them about."

Taphorn told Purple Wildcats shortly after the firing that he "(planned) on still going to NU," though he was "not too happy." Shortly after, he somewhat retracted this statement, presumably to complete the process of meeting the new coach before confirming his commitment. Jaren Sina – one of the most exciting NU recruits in recent memory – had not been reached for comment as of 7 p.m. Saturday.

Meanwhile, Phillips met with current players at 11 a.m., leaving time for them during this emotional stretch. NU bowed out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday. Now, they are forced to regroup and unite leading into this tumultuous offseason. Phillips explained the process and rationale of his decision, one that visibly weighed on him.

"It was an emotional meeting, is how I would describe it," he said. "I love those kids. I do. I think they represent what's right in college basketball and college athletics. And they're hurting … It really is about making sure we're there for them."

The Wildcats lose two senior leaders in Alex Marcotullio and Reggie Hearn – leaving a considerable void in the emotional structure of this team. Assuming he receives a medical redshirt due to season-ending shoulder surgery, Drew Crawford figured to lead the tournament run next season. But even his status is not guaranteed. Phillips will speak with him tomorrow.

"I hope he'll be a catalyst in keeping the team together," Phillips said.

It seems unlikely that any players will leave or de-commit. That was not necessarily the point Phillips tried to make. This young team lost its head coach following another difficult season. The ownership falls on him to make sure these athletes have the requisite support from his department. The team's emotions currently hang in the balance.

Thirteen years of factors played into Carmody's dismissal. Phillips sincerely believes that this program – in its current state – can get to the next level. "Why does the past have to dictate our future?" he asked. This next step marks the opportunity to change the culture and improve the overall program.

However, they can only do that with the men in the locker room, and the recruits on the phone. For Phillips, the message is simple: first things first.

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