Collins: On team strength, new start

Collins spoke about JerShon Cobb, team strength improvement, a "new start" and much more in his Tuesday afternoon press conference.

Chris Collins began by instilling correct work habits at Northwestern. It carries down the line: Collins leads every film session, whereas Bill Carmody rarely attended them. He's thankful to have strong presence on the perimeter—including Drew Crawford, Jershon Cobb and Dave Sobolewski. "I'm still learning about the guys and who plays well together…" Collins said. It'll require a process.

— Collins took a careful stance in describing NU's recent history. He respects the past, but believes in the value of a "new start"–and with that "a clean slate"–for his entire team. The head coach noted some of the injuries from last season, which tarnished the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament hopeful team.

— He continues to figure out the best rotation and starting five for this year's group. "All 10 scholarship players can help," he said. One interesting note here: Collins wants his top guys capable of playing 30-plus minutes (given that there are built-in breaks and TV timeouts for rest). The two points counter each other, as he'll understandably rely on a smaller group of guys in his first year.

— Collins set no "numerical goals" in terms of win total—which could have a wide range depending on various factors. He's focused more on creating a unit that competes every night. By staying competitive late in games, they can rely on solid execution and preparation to steal wins from solid Big Ten opponents.

— This offseason, they worked intensely on strength and conditioning: "Physically, a lot of our guys have changed their body types." Sobolewski–the recipient of good reviews lately–has lost between 12 and 14 pounds, with Cobb losing 20 after his year off. It's especially important for Crawford, Cobb and Sanjay Lumpkin. Collins said the latter two benefited from playing on a European touring team (coached by NU assistant Patrick Baldwin) this summer.

— "He's healthy," Collins said of Drew Crawford. "I've noticed in the last month, he's started to get his timing back… He should vie for all-conference honors." Crawford also looked solid in the Wildcats' generally lethargic open scrimmage. With his strength and versatility, his role will expand even more in year one of the Collins era.

— He'll move away from dribble-drive sets and work towards some strengths. Crawford and Cobb will function as "big wings," capable of posting up opponents and making plays on the interior. Collins hopes the team will "slash" enough to reach the free-throw line, and not simply rely on the three-point shot to score points.

— Collins set some lofty expectations for Cobb, who struggled with consistency during the 2011-12 season. When playing 15 or more minutes, Cobb suffered a nine-game stretch without reaching a double-digit scoring total. (He shot 6-of-23 from three-point range in those games.) Still, with his "basketball instincts," Collins believes Cobb could be the team's leading scorer. He even mentioned Cobb's ball-handling skills, saying that he could work well as a backup point guard: "He'll be asked to do what key players do: everything."

Jordan Bernfield and Michael Hlebasko contributed reporting.


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