We're excited about the upcoming season. I think in large part really three things: One, from a long-term perspective, as of today we're healthy, and that certainly always helps. I think, secondly, the experience that we have. This will be the oldest team that I've coached as an assistant or head coach during my college career. And at some point this year I've got two guys that are going to turn 25 years old. Got a couple sixth-year seniors that have earned bachelor's, as well as two master's degrees when this thing's all said and done. So that's pretty special. That experience of our six seniors means a great deal. You can even sense that in the preseason, just in terms of their knowledge and the progression that we've been able to make through the eight practices thus far.
The third reason would be just the outstanding spring, summer and fall that our group of men had. The collective buy-in of our group with everything that we've been through I think is as strong as I've seen it as a head coach or been a part of. We've had years where individual players or a handful of players have had extraordinary off-seasons. Obviously we certainly acknowledge that, and we've had teams that have worked hard. I certainly don't want to make you feel that way, but the collective buy-in of the entire group in spring, summer and fall was just tremendous. Saw a lot of gains, especially in the weight room with strength and conditioning, and a couple things that we locked in on with each player throughout the off-season. I thought the guys really addressed those things and came back a lot better individually and a lot better as a team as we started preseason practice for us on October 3rd.
So with those three things working in combination and concert, that creates a lot of excitement and gives us an opportunity to really have a special season.
Q - You're here in DC, Big Ten office is in New York. What do you think about the shift and expansion of the conference to include the East Coast from what was once the Midwest completely?
Well, I think it's great, number one. Number two, we talked about not just visiting here but living here. We have 8500 alums in New York, between 6- and 7,000 here in D.C., and that's just Illinois. That doesn't even include the Big Ten footprint for the East Coast area in terms of what the number of alums that we have from the 14 institutions. So obviously it makes a lot of sense. I think it's great for us to branch out and really be in this area. We recruit in this area. Our alums are in this area, and we're just excited about this new opportunity that we have to play and to be here today in D.C., and obviously to play the Big Ten tournament here will be special for our players.
Q - Coach, last year, Jalen Coleman-Lands had a big, breakout freshman year. What kind of improvements from you seen from him in the offseason, and what kind of role can we expect him to play this year?
The biggest thing with Jalen is he changed his body. I mentioned strength and conditioning with all 16 of our men. But Jalen is certainly very pronounced when you see pictures of him when he first came in versus what his body looks like now. His conditioning is much improved. It's been well documented. Last year he missed all of summer and fall training camp leading into the season. So he's had more training. I think he's more ready. He knows the system a lot better both offensively and defensively. You know, we're excited about what the future holds for him, not only this year but moving forward even beyond that.