By ANDREW SELIGMAN
AP Sports Writer
EVANSTON, Ill. — Chris Collins recalled playing in a packed arena at Northwestern when he was in high school and all the electricity in the building.
That’s something he hopes to see on a regular basis.
The longtime Duke assistant and son of an NBA coach was formally introduced as the new coach of the Wildcats on Tuesday and he promised to do what no Northwestern coach has done: lead the team to the NCAA tournament.
He insisted the potential to succeed is there despite outdated facilities and high academic standards.
“I’m not afraid of the work that needs to be done,” Collins said as his dad, Doug, watched from the front row. “I know it’s going to take time. I’m ultra-competitive. I’m passionate about what I do. To me, in life if you love doing something, you want people to know about it.”
And he was adamant about one thing.
“We’re going to build a winner,” he said. “I’m confident. I’m excited. But I also know it’s going to take work.”
Northwestern hired Collins last week to replace the fired Bill Carmody, hoping he can lead the Wildcats into the top echelon of the Big Ten and back to the NCAA tournament. The school wants him to create the sort of excitement Collins saw in the arena as a player for Glenbrook North High School in the state tournament.
“The place was packed,” he said. “You couldn’t find a seat in here, and it was an unbelievable atmosphere. I know there’s been a lot of talk about what we don’t have and what we need. My goal for Welsh-Ryan is let’s make this a heck of a home-court advantage. Let’s get these seats packed.”
In many ways, Collins seemed like a logical fit given his ties to the area, the academic similarities between Duke and Northwestern and his basketball pedigree. He grew up near campus in suburban Northbrook, Ill., and saw up close just how competitive Michael Jordan was while his dad was coaching the Chicago Bulls.
“Everybody saw what he was doing during the games,” said Collins, a Bulls ball boy back then. “But they didn’t see how he won every sprint, he was trying to win every drill, and he created a culture of competitiveness on those Bulls teams that took them to new heights.”
Collins took it all in and became a star at Glenbrook North, where he was Mr. Basketball in Illinois, and at Duke from 1993-96.
He played overseas before starting a coaching career that included stints with the WNBA’s Detroit Shock and with Tommy Amaker’s staff at Seton Hall. Collins joined Mike Krzyzewski’s staff in 2000 and was promoted to associate head coach in 2008.
He’s taking over a program at Northwestern that came close to making the tourney in recent years but couldn’t quite clear that hurdle. The school that hosted the first Final Four still hasn’t been to the tournament.
“We have to get this basketball program going,” athletic director Jim Phillips said. “There are too many of our other programs that have had incredible success for us not to be good in basketball.”
The Wildcats made four straight NIT appearances, an unprecedented run for the program, before stumbling to a 13-19 record this past season. Season-ending injuries to key players Drew Crawford and Jared Swopshire along with guard JerShon Cobb’s yearlong suspension for violating team rules were simply too much to overcome and ultimately cost Carmody his job after 13 seasons.
Now, it’s Collins’ turn.
“To me, he’s everything right about college basketball,” Doug Collins said. “His love for the game, you saw that come out. He’s smart. He’s a great teacher.”
Eleven straight coaches have left Northwestern with losing records. That includes one of the game’s great innovators in Tex Winter, a coach who led Duke to a Final Four in Bill Foster and Kevin O’Neill, who got other high-profile jobs in college and the NBA.
If Collins turns out to be the basketball version of football’s Pat Fitzgerald — a young, energetic coach overseeing a competitive program despite the inherent hurdles — that would suit Northwestern just fine. The academic standards limit the pool of recruits and the facilities don’t make things any easier. But where some see obstacles, Collins sees opportunity.
Yes, Welsh-Ryan Arena is by far the smallest in the Big Ten with a capacity of just over 8,100. And while a new complex that includes new facilities for the football team is in the works, there are no concrete plans to renovate the arena.
“They have the vision for being top-notch in athletics, and I know that it’s going to apply to basketball as well,” Collins said.
And, he noted, Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke is far from a modern marvel.
As for Northwestern’s academic standards? Collins insisted they’re a plus.
“There are plenty of young men in this country — and some in other countries, as we see with the roster — that fit the profile and fit what this university is all about,” he said. “Play in the Big Ten. Be in Chicago. A great academic school. Hopefully, with a new, energetic staff, there are a lot of positives here and I view the academic requirements as a positive because I think it adds to the value of the young men that I want to bring in.”
He vowed to recruit heavily in Chicago, which he said is the “best basketball city in the country,” while also looking “everywhere” for prospects.
Collins has never been a head coach before, and he figures to be tested in the Big Ten going up against Tom Izzo, Tom Crean, Bo Ryan and John Beilein.
If he needs a sounding board, he has two good ones in Krzyzewski and his father. There’s even been some talk of Doug Collins going to work for him down the road, although he’s busy coaching the 76ers right now.
“The one thing Chris and I have always been able to do is separate work from being a father and a son,” Doug Collins said. “I’ve always been a resource for him, but the thing about it is he’s building this program and I’ve got to be very careful that this right here that’s going on doesn’t detract from him. This is Chris’ program. All I want to do is be there for him. … I never want to ever have my shadow cover him up.”