By Katy Winge
When head coach Chris Collins took over the Northwestern program in 2013, he recruited players by trying to convince them his dream could be a reality.
“You’re selling what you’d like to do,” Collins said. “But there’s not a lot of tangible stuff you can put out there…it’s just please share my same vision.”
Junior guard Bryant McIntosh was one of the guys that initially bought into the dream. Heading into his senior year of high school, McIntosh came on a visit to Northwestern and spent some time shooting in Welsh-Ryan Arena.
On an October night, he came into the gym with his dad. He took a photo at mid-court and started looking around. Despite losing 69-65 to Purdue Sunday, McIntosh admitted the atmosphere came close to his initial dreams in playing at Welsh-Ryan.
“The noise, the crowd. Everything,” he said of the frenzied scene. ” I didn’t dream well enough, obviously. That was an unbelievable crowd.”
Collins also talked about Welsh-Ryan Arena on that Sunday, and he played and coached at Duke — basketball arenas packed full like cans of sardines are essentially an area of expertise for him.
“I’ve pretty much seen every great environment in the country,” Collins said. “And what I saw…was as good of a college basketball environment and energy that I’ve ever witnessed.”
He said it was emotional for him, because it showed how far his team has come. What was a vision four years ago, is now within reach for the Wildcats.
According to Collins, the season is broken down into four smaller series. The first is non-conference play, followed by conference games, the conference tournament and then possibly post-season tournament action. He said Northwestern is now entering its third season, and it’s no longer a marathon for the Wildcats — it’s a sprint. But as the Big Ten teams prepare, it’s also a clean slate.
“Now it’s zero and zero,” Collins said. “Everybody goes to Washington with a fresh start. And you don’t get a lot of chances to play for championships.”
The ‘Wildcats are the sixth seed in the Big Ten tournament. The conference announced this week that three members of the Northwestern men’s basketball team earned All Big-Ten honors: Bryant McIntosh, Second Team All-Big Ten; Scottie Lindsey Third Team All-Big Ten; and Vic Law, All-Defensive Team. This is the first time since 2012 the Wildcats had multiple representatives on the All-Big Ten teams.
This season has been full of firsts for Northwestern. 21 regular-season victories is the best in program history. Winning 10 conference games has not been done since the 1932-33 season. And lingering in the distance, the elusive punched-ticket to the NCAA Tournament, something the Wildcats have never experienced.
“Seeing how far this program has come is something that I can take a lot of pride in,” McIntosh said. “A lot of us can.”
Collins said he didn’t know how long it was going to take. He didn’t know how hard it was going to be. He didn’t know the process his team would have to go through to get to this point, but he believed.
“The thing that I love is that it wasn’t just me believing,” he said. “It was all those guys in the locker room, it was the players. And they’re the ones out there playing.”
Collins said he hopes this is just the beginning. That being the sixth seed isn’t the end game, but a great start. He wants to be talking about regular season championships and tournament championships. Discussing not just making the NCAA tournament, but having success when they get there.
“These are steps we have to take along the way” he said. “And it’s a big step for us to do what we’ve done this year.”