Men’s Basketball: How Chris Collins’ first 2 months helped shape future of Northwestern basketball

Northwestern's new men's basketball coach Chris Collins sat down with The Daily on Tuesday to discuss his vision for the Wildcats. Collins said he wants to build a relationship with the student body in order to get them excited for the season, which starts on Nov. 9.

Brian Lee/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern's new men's basketball coach Chris Collins sat down with The Daily on Tuesday to discuss his vision for the Wildcats. Collins said he wants to build a relationship with the student body in order to get them excited for the season, which starts on Nov. 9.

Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

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Two months into his tenure at Northwestern, Chris Collins’ vision for the men’s basketball team is still taking shape.

The new coach sat down with The Daily on Tuesday to discuss what he sees in the Wildcats’ future. Collins was adamant that the first step is building a rapport with the students and making sure they are also invested in the program.

“It’s not about just coming here and trying to win basketball games,” Collins said. “One of the biggest reasons why I came to Northwestern was because of what a great school it is. The more I can get to know the people and get involved in the community, the better it will be for our basketball program.”

Collins has tried hard to deflect attention away from the past, both his own and the program’s. He acknowledged NU is known for not getting to the NCAA Tournament, but he has made it a point to stay away from talking about the past in order to create a new legacy.

He said the program had been bogged down and the players looked like they were feeling the weight of the Cats’ past history. For himself, Collins said he will always remember his time in Durham, N.C., but it would be unfair to compare his experience at NU to the one he had at Duke.

“I just felt like when I got to spend time with the guys, and I got to spend time around here, everyone was a little bit beat down by the history,” Collins said. “I just said, ‘Let’s not think about any of that stuff. Let’s start fresh.’ Everyone’s on a clean slate. Everyone’s refreshed, everyone’s excited and we’re kind of starting from the ground up.”

Collins was hired at an interesting time in his career. He was interviewed as Duke was competing in the NCAA Tournament, so he had to juggle both commitments at once. He was given the job between the Blue Devils’ third round and Sweet Sixteen game.

He said it was easy for him to focus on Duke when he was at practice or doing other preparations for the game, but otherwise it was tough to keep his mind focused on one task.

“What made it difficult was when you got away from the practice court, especially when I had the job for a couple of days,” Collins said. “My mind was racing about all the things I needed to do to get started here at Northwestern. I was juggling two jobs for about five days. Although it was fun and exciting, it was nice to just move to one job and put all my energy and focus into this.”

In just a few short weeks, Collins was able to assemble most of his staff. Two of his three assistant coaches have been announced, both of whom graduated from NU. He had high praise for both assistants, describing how much respect they have earned in coaching circles. However, he also discussed the value of them being able to connect with the student-athlete experience at NU.

“When I first got the job, my first order of business was to make sure Tavaras (Hardy) stayed,” Collins said. “I know how highly respected he is and what he’s done as a coach, as a recruiter, and how much he loves Northwestern.

“As I tried to take my time and find the best candidate, the more I looked at the values and qualities I was looking for, everything was pointing towards Pat Baldwin. For me to have two guys that can share that message of what it was like to be here, for them it’s more than just a job. This is their program, this is their family.”

When asked how he would rate his first two months on the job, Collins admitted he didn’t really know what to expect. However, he is happy with where the program seems to be headed a little more than five months away from the start of the season.

“The main thing that I’ve tried to do since I’ve been here is to start build a winning culture,” Collins said. “Embracing all the little things, the work habits we need to have to be successful. I’ve been pleasantly surprised about the attitudes of the guys and how everyone has embraced the change.”

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