Official Store

    The Skip Report: Michigan State Primer

    The Wildcats will need Alex Olah to be in "beast" mode against Michigan State.

    The Wildcats will need Alex Olah to be in "beast" mode against Michigan State.

    Jan. 14, 2014 Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up news, notes and quotes from Tuesday's Northwestern men's basketball team practice leading up to Wednesday night's contest vs. Michigan State.

    Notes, quotes and anecdotes as the `Cats prepare to play No. 4 Michigan State Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan...

    Here is what Chris Collins said to center Alex Olah after their first practice together. "I want you to look in the mirror," he told him, "and say everyday, `I'm a beast.'"

    "I kind of laughed," Olah recalled Tuesday afternoon. "But then he was like, `No. I'm serious.'

    "Then I was, `Well. OK.'"

    "The intent was, he's a young guy," Collins later explained. "I could tell from being around him a little bit that we needed to get his confidence up. He has the talent. But he was knocked back a little bit as a freshman because he was young. You look at the bigs he was going against last year, it was tough. So I think he was not as confident as he should be. The thing I wanted to do was get his confidence level back up and I think finally now it's getting there. He's having some success. Even though we got beat badly, I think that Wisconsin game was huge for him. He was able to have a lot of success (23 points, six rebounds) and that kind of set the stage. Since that game he's been very consistent for us."


    No, Olah says with a laugh. He does not look in the mirror everyday and call himself a beast. But when he bumps into Collins? "Hey, coach. What's up?" he will say then.

    "Hey. The Beast," Collins says back to him.

    "Now everybody (on the coaching staff) calls me that," says Olah with a smile.

    "I do. I do. Unless he's not doing it," says Collins with a smile of his own. "Then I tell him, `Don't tell me you're a beast unless you're going to act upon it.' Those are the kind of things, again, with young guy, a lot of times it's just about a mindset. I think he likes it. And it allows us to have some fun."




    Olah is certainly having more fun than he did a season ago. He is scoring more and rebounding more and, using the eye test, simply looking more assured among the bodies banging down on the blocks. "Confidence and I'm more aggressive," he will say when asked the difference in him between now and 12 months ago. "I'm more aggressive. I think that's it. We all have that fire to do good and help this team win. So I'm trying to do everything I can to do that and, well, be a beast, like coach says."

    Where did that confidence come from?

    "Some came from last summer when I played for my national team. Then I came into this season, I started seeing my hook shots go in and my free throws went up. That just gives you more confidence, you know. My teammates and coaches also helped me. `Hey, we need you. We need you to do better.' That loosened me up even more. . . Last year was a learning curve for me. I learned a lot. This year I'm a sophomore. I'm almost a junior now. I have to learn also to be a leader. I have to do something to help this team. I'm older, I'm more experienced now, I have one year in the Big Ten. That's good."

    "Big guys take time to develop," Collins says minutes later, noting an accepted basketball maxim. "Sometimes we forget with Alex, he's in his sophomore year, he's four games into his conference season as a sophomore. This guy's going to be a good player. He's getting better with each game. I think what you're seeing is his confidence is growing. So much with a player is confidence. He believes in himself now."


    QUICKIE QUOTES: Collins on whether he's comfortable with Olah shooting the three, which he does on occasion: "For sure. For sure. He's got a nice touch. That's a shot he can make. That can't be all he does. But I want him, if he rolls out and he's open, I want him to have the confidence to take that shot."

    Collins on Tre Demps, whose three threes in three minutes against Illinois helped spark the `Cat win: "I was more impressed with his eight rebounds and five assists. He's always been a guy who can score the ball and be aggressive offensively. But his ability to do other things in that game, I think it put him a position to make those shots."

    Demps on Sanjay Lumpkin, who chipped a tooth in that Illini game while hustling for a loose ball: "That kind of represents his game. He's a guy who's going to do a lot of the dirty work. So I honestly wasn't that surprised. But it was kind of funny to see him with that chipped tooth."

    Collins on JerShon Cobb, who is expected to start at point against the Spartans with Dave Sobolewski listed as doubtful while recovering from a concussion: "I actually think it helps him a little bit. JerShon, we need him to be aggressive. We need him to be in the attack mindset and I think having the ball to start helps get him in that mode. What I've found about JerShon is he's actually better when he's got the ball in his hands than he is coming off screens and those kind of things."


    QUICKLY NOTED: The Spartans' 6-foot-11 Adreian Payne, whos's averaging 16.4 ppg, sat out their Saturday win over Minnesota and is doubtful for Wednesday. "I've got to look at the big picture for him and the big picture for us," their coach Tom Izzo said Monday. "I do not see this lingering all year. Only if I let it-- and I'm not gonna let it.". . . Also doubtful is their leading rebounder, 6-foot-6 forward Branden Dawson, who has been laid low by a virus. . . The Spartans have hit 40 percent of their three-point attempts, best in the Big Ten. They also have three players shooting better than that from distance: guard Keith Appling (48.3), Payne (43.9) and guard Travis Trice (42.6). It is also notable that 6-foot-8 Kenny Kaminski, who picked up some of Payne's minutes in the Gopher game, was five-of-seven on his threes that afternoon. . . The Spartans are averaging 18.5 assists per game, best in the conference and third best in the nation.

    AND FINALLY, Collins, on facing the Spartans: "We have to be ready to play at a high-intensity level, and physical. Anytime you play them, it's a man's game. You can't be young out there. You've got to be tough. That's going to be a challenge for our guys."


    Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook, subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter and sign up to receive promotional text alerts for the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!