Coaches Answering Questions...

The second of four 'Cats Chats with <b>Bill Carmody</b> was held at <b>Wolfgang Puck's</b> in Evanston Thursday night, and before the <b>Michigan </b>game on Saturday, Assistant Coach <b>Craig Robinson</b> spoke at a reception for Fast Break Club boosters. Purple Reign was there, and here's a summary of some of the things that were discussed...

In general, it's tough not realize the extent of the tough luck the Wildcats have faced and continue to face this season, particularly with injuries.
Bill Carmody [BC] said that the assistant coaches are in extremely good shape as they have been playing a ton of basketball in scrimmages due to Wildcat injuries. [I'm thinking that Mitch Henderson looks like a college kid and could perhaps get away with suiting up for a game or two. If only.]
Aaron Jennings
Neither BC nor Craig Robinson [CR] could say enough about the guts that Aaron Jennings has exhibited this season. Coming into the season, they were counting on Aaron for 25-30 minutes a game. In turn, Aaron has been playing about 35 minutes a game with severe shin splints. The shin splints are so bad that Aaron has yet to scrimmage full-court, participate in practice layup lines (because he can't jump off one leg), or actually play an entire practice.

Nevertheless, he's the Wildcats' third leading scorer. Someone asked BC why Aaron doesn't dunk the ball more. BC responded by asking if the guy knew Aaron personally. He then answered fairly politely saying what a great kid Aaron is, but seemed to imply that the person who asked the question could "shove it".

Based on how bad the shin splints are, both coaches seemed a little bit awed by what Aaron has been able to accomplish and how he's been able to contribute.

Ivan Tolic
Ivan has tendonitis in both knees. He needs surgery on both knees. Unfortunately, the team is in such desperate need of another body in practice that Ivan will have to wait until the season is over for the surgeries. He will have surgery on one knee, and then surgery on the other knee probably about five weeks later.

Coming into the season, the coaches had been expecting 12-13 minutes a game out of Ivan. Mind you, this was when they assumed that Aaron would be perfectly healthy. [Ouch.]

Vedran Vukusic
The loss of Vedran Vukusic [left] has been perhaps the most devastating blow to the 'Cats this season. BC looks as though he's just been punched in the stomach whenever anyone asks about Vedran. Last spring, Vedran had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. Last month, he had complete reconstructive surgery on it. BC said that Vedran's shoulder is full of all kinds of metal now.

NU Assistant Craig Robinson [right] said that he had the exact same surgery and that Vedran should be better than new next season. The surgery was reportedly a success and, in theory, Vedran's shoulder should be stronger than it ever was before the injuries. (BC sarcastically said that the doctors had said the same thing last season.) BC commented that Vedran has told him that he will play next season no matter what -- even if his shoulder starts popping out again.

Vedran has had his arm in a sling for the last month since the surgery. He is allowed to take it out of the sling and begin therapy on Monday.

CR mentioned that Vedran has been shooting one-handed with his left hand since the injury. BC mentioned the same thing and added that Vedran has become a better three-point shooter with his left hand than half of the players on the team are with their natural hand. This got a chuckle. BC quickly interrupted the moment and clarified that he is completely serious and that Vedran is an exceptionally gifted person and player.
Northwestern's weak defense
BC conceded that almost all of their time in practice is spent on offense. He said that this has always been the case in the 27 years that he's been coaching. However, for 26 out of 27 years, his teams have always been one of the best couple defenses in the league. This was the case last year when the 'Cats were #1 in the Big Ten in scoring defense and #2 in the league in opponents' shooting percentage.

As a result of their weak defense this season, they've recently been spending a lot of time concentrating on this aspect of their game. BC thinks that their vulnerable defense may be in part due to the fact that Aaron Jennings is so immobile and can't get to the perimeter as quickly as he should be able to. This has caused everyone else to have to try to compensate and has perhaps resulted in them falling off their assignments a bit.

The emergence of Mohamed Hachad
Both BC and CR spoke of how remarklable Mohamed Hachad's [NU Photo-right] court vision and athleticism are and, at the same time, how unbelievably turnover-prone Mohamed had been in practice and games until just recently. BC said that it's gotten to the point now where Mohamed has learned to limit turnovers.

The pros are starting to outweigh the cons as far as giving him some playing time goes. Still, BC said that Mohamed has to learn to just play consistent, solid defense. He said it seems that on almost every play Mohamed seems to either make a steal or get beaten for a score.

Lineups and combinations on the floor
When asked about the increasing number of combinations and lineups that Northwestern has been using, BC said that they are trying different things. He said that they can easily play Jason Burke, Evan Seacat, Mohamed Hachad, etc. at forward because positions don't mean that much in their offense. They try to get a center and the four best guys they can on the court at once.

They've used Aaron Jennings, Davor Duvancic, and even Jason Burke at center. They try to post-up whoever they think can score. Instead of posting-up a forward or center, they often post-up Jitim Young because he's the most capable of making things happen in the paint. BC said that they need to go to Aaron more frequently in the post because good things happen when they get the ball to him there.

More bad luck this week
Jason Burke and Davor Duvancic both have a bad case of the flu and did not practice today. (Again, the assistant coaches are playing a lot of basketball.) To make matters worse, Jimmy Maley turned his ankle in practice today. They still hope that Jimmy will be able to play -- if not start -- on Saturday.

These were the most notable bits of news and information from the two events that come to mind.

Between the two events, there was well over an hour-and-a-half of questions and answers.

Feel free to post questions on the Basketball board. A lot of things that you might have questions about were likely discussed. I have a pretty good memory -- especialy when it comes to Wildcats basketball, I'm kinda like Rain Man -- and will do my best to answer your questions.

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