WNUR’s Ben Goren and Jason Dorow went out to Rosemont for Big Ten Media Day.  While there, they talked to Joe McKeown, Nia Coffey, and Maggie Lyon on last year’s season, the new crop of recruits, and where the program is.

Joe McKeown

On potentially playing “smallball” with Coffey at the 5 and Lauren Douglas at the 4:

We played a lot with that lineup 2 years ago with Nia and Lauren and Maggie, Ashley and Inman.  I like that lineup.  It’s a hard matchup.  We’ve got to guard people with that lineup, but it’s hard to guard that 5 especially when you open the floor and you run and you spread the floor.  Lauren’s really hard to guard.  You can’t take a step off Maggie.  Nia can explode.  Christen Inman last year against Indiana, she had 20 against Minnesota, she’s a really good player.

On the returning reserve bigs backing up Coffey:

I think both of them [Tuttle & Johnson] paid their dues a little bit and give us different things, size give us some strength.  I think they allow us to play—you know in our league you’ve got to guard some big kids, gotta guard some big strong post players, you gotta rebound with the best teams, so I think they give us that.  They’re both smart players so I think you’re going to see probably more players playing this year than we played last year.

On freshman forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah:

We were excited when she decided to come here, she was very highly recruited.  When she walks into the gym, she’s just so strong.  She can run. 

When you’re in practice, Nia just goes up over 6 people and just like flies, grabs the ball and goes.  I haven’t seen anyone do it like Nia.  And then Pallas the other day just jumped up with all these people just darted and came back with the ball like Superman, and I’m like “Whoa!”  The key is to do that again and again and again.  She’s still learning the game as its played here too.  You know coming from Nigeria where, you know she didn’t have the same training, same schooling as far as basketball.  But she’s gonna help us.

On whether Kunaiyi-Akpanah has separated herself from the other freshmen:

Well they play different positions.  Jordan Hankins is a highly acclaimed, great player in Indiana high school basketball and for her to come to Northwestern was a big thing for us.  Jordan has stepped in and is just really gifted, but you know, point guard/shooting guard.  She hit 3 threes in practice yesterday I was like “see I knew you were capable of that, just do it tomorrow.”  She’s gonna really help us.  She has great speed, great quickness.

On what’s the hardest thing to replace with guard Karly Roser graduating:

In Karly’s case, it’s just toughness.  We gave her the ball when she walked in as a freshman for two years and played as many minutes as any freshman we’ve probably ever had.  Had a great year as a sophomore, got even better.  Had a unique injury her junior year, sat out three quarters of the year, comes back and doesn’t start as a senior.  The adverstity, the way she handled that I was really proud of.  And it was really hard. She was a huge part of our success.  She played with a mask with a broken nose.  She probably still wears it now.

On what Northwestern needs to do to reach the next level as a program:

You got to have a chance to win in March.  The greatest recruiting tool you can have is winning games in the NCAA Tournament.  And that’s what we did at GW we were in the Sweet 16, we were in the final 8, we were in the top 10 all year.  So that recruited for us.  At Northwestern until last year as much as we kept pumping up how good we’re gonna be, and we’re in the NIT, and these guys are back, until you actually get in the tournament, nobody believes you.

On the new rule changes (but mostly about talking to officials):

I’m tired of reffing games.  I reffed every game last year.  I didn’t get paid a dime.  So Im going to retire from officiating and let them do their job.

Nia Coffey

On Kunaiyi-Akpanah:

Her ceiling is ridiculous.  She has such a hunger for rebounding.  I’m glad she’s on my team, but she’s impossible to get a rebound over.  And I love that because that’s just gonna raise our bar as a team for rebounding because we really had struggles with that last year.  She’s raising our overall bar for intensity on the boards.  She’s learning so fast and I’m just excited to see where she can go.

On what the biggest adjustment was for her coming from high school to college:

In high school—this is going to sound really bad—I didn’t really have to work as hard, so I really had to change my work ethic and my dedication towards the game. I had to understand a way to be poised and be patient with the process, but I never changed my winning mentality.  I just needed to understand how to win.

Maggie Lyon

On freshmen wings Jordan Hankins and Amber Jamison:

I think they’ve been doing a great job, and they care a lot about improving.  It’s obviously a big adjustment coming in from high school freshman year.  And I think we’re trying to help them along, but I think they have a lot of raw talent. I think it’s just kind of putting that to the test in college and we’ll see how they do, but they’ve done a great job in practice.

On the program’s development during her time at Northwestern:

I’ve seen the true progression of being under .500 freshman year, over .500 sophomore year and going to the NIT and winning some games, and then last year winning 23 games, semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, going to the NCAA tournament.  All that stuff were such great accomplishments, and it was such a great historical season, but I think we’re not even satisfied with that. We want so much more than just that, we want to advance in the NCAA Tournament, we want to win a Big Ten Championship and all that stuff. 

Last year what was so special about our run was the community support we got and what people kind of reached out to us and told us they were watching and that meant so much to us because it’s not always a tradition they had.  Building that tradition and being a part of that was so special and what I wanted in coming to Northwestern.