By Troy Mauriello
So far, so good for head coach Matt Collier at Queens College. A successful first season with the men’s basketball team saw him lead the Knights to their first East Coast Conference Tournament appearance since 2014, and now the second-year head coach has his sights set on continuing the growth of his program.
That growth will continue this fall, when the Knights travel to Connecticut and face the four-time national champion UConn Huskies in an exhibition game scheduled for Nov. 5. But while this game should be an experience that will last a lifetime for Collier’s players, he will go in with a different, more serious frame of mind.
“Obviously it’s definitely exciting, it’s exciting for our kids, it’s exciting for me as a coach,” Collier said. “Playing UConn, I don’t look at it as playing the tradition of UConn, I look at it as getting a chance to prepare with an exhibition game and prepare for our season against a good team.”
The Knights will get a chance to do just that at either Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., or the XL Center in Hartford thanks to Collier’s longtime friendship with UConn assistant coach Dwayne Killings.
“They reached out to us,” Collier said. “I’ve known him (Killings) since college, we both went to UMass together, so we’ve been tight ever since then.”
And while that relationship should certainly spark some feelings of a friendly rivalry during the exhibition, Collier made sure to note that the main focus of this game will be to prepare his team for their upcoming season.
He’ll have his work cut out for him in that regard. Although the Knights did make an appearance in the ECC tournament after winning the most games (13) since 2010-11 and posting their best conference record (10-8) since 2012-13, the roster was a veteran squad that featured seven seniors, all of whom have since moved on from the program.
Now with a young squad that will feature a plethora of underclassmen, Collier will have a unique task in front of him in order to replicate last season’s success. He sees the exhibition against UConn as a chance to do just that – offering them top-tier competition right off the bat.
“We’re going to be a young team and [a lot of] our guys have never played college basketball before,” he said. “And I thought that playing a team in that environment would be good for them, just because if they can play a game against that caliber opponent and execute and still do the things that we’re trying to work on, then they should be able to do it against anybody.”
Aside from learning how to execute on the collegiate level, the new faces at Queens College also must understand the type of program that they are entering in to: a new-look, winning program under Collier.
“With these new guys coming in, they know that they’re not coming in to a losing program,” he said. “So they know, and hopefully they respect that and want to take ownership of it.”
But no matter what new faces take the court, the goal for Collier is for the Knights to ultimately build a national presence under his leadership. The trip to face one of college basketball’s top programs should be a good start.
“Now, we get an opportunity to continue to make our stamp, not only in the ECC, but regionally and hopefully nationally at some point, because that’s the goal,” Collier said.