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Men’s Basketball: Duke’s Chris Collins named next Northwestern head coach

Chris Collins (left) watches a Duke game with fellow coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Wojciechowski. Collins was named Northwestern's head basketball coach Wednesday.

Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT

Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT

Chris Collins (left) watches a Duke game with fellow coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Wojciechowski. Collins was named Northwestern's head basketball coach Wednesday.

Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

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Chris Collins will be the next head coach of the Northwestern men’s basketball team.

The NU athletic department announced tonight it has hired the 38-year-old associate head coach at Duke to replace Bill Carmody, who was fired earlier this month after leading the Wildcats to a 13-19 record in the 2012-13 season. Collins has been an assistant at Duke for 13 seasons, including the past five as the associate head coach.

“Northwestern University is a special place that strives for excellence in every regard, and our program will be no different,” Collins said in a news release.

Collins will not join NU until Duke’s run in the NCAA Tournament is over. The Blue Devils play Friday against Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

“He has a tremendous pedigree as a basketball coach and will be an outstanding leader for Chicago’s Big Ten Team, and mentor for our student-athletes,” NU athletic director Jim Phillips said in the release. “After a thorough and comprehensive search process, there is no doubt he is a perfect fit for this institution and our men’s basketball program.”

During an unrelated news conference this afternoon, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said it would be “terrific” if his assistant headed to Evanston. At the time, NU had not announced the hiring.

“He’s got a great basketball mind, competitive personality, team guy,” Krzyzewski said of Collins. “Anybody who would get one of my guys would be getting somebody pretty special.”

Collins will be charged with helping NU reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. He will have to do so with heavy academic restrictions — a familiar challenge at Duke — and an aging Welsh-Ryan Arena, which has not had any renovation since 1983.

Collins’ selection is widely viewed as the basketball program’s response to football coach Pat Fitzgerald — a young, enthusiastic advocate for student athletes who can rally student and alumni support. Like Fitzgerald, a former NU linebacker from Orland Park, Collins has several ties to the Chicago area. Collins was named Illinois Mr. Basketball as a young star at Glenbrook North High School, where he averaged more than 30 points a game during his senior year. He has also been the main recruiter for Duke in the Chicago area, crucial territory for NU.

Collins comes from a rich coaching bloodline as the son of former Chicago Bulls and current Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins. Collins has also been around one of the most successful college coaches in history in Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, including four years as a player before taking up the assistant post.

The coaching announcement came after some lighthearted teasing from the athletic department’s Twitter accounts. The main handle tweeted this morning that fans should follow the men’s basketball handle. Three hours later, NU tweeted a picture of the white smoke from the prescribed burn on the Lakefill with the comment “Habemus Papam?”, an apparent reference to the Latin phrase declaring a new pope.

On Tuesday, the men’s basketball account asked if fans had heard “any good rumors lately” — hours after the first reports Collins was talking with NU about the coaching position.

— Josh Walfish