Chris Collins knew that his calling in basketball probably would be as a coach.
His father, Doug, coached in the NBA. Chris played at Duke and worked 13 years as an assistant under the Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski, learning from one of the game’s greatest coaches.
So when Northwestern selected Collins to replace Bill Carmody in March, no one should have been surprised.
“I love the situation,” Collins, 39, said during the Wildcats’ visit to Orleans Arena, where they lost twice in the Las Vegas Invitational — falling 95-79 to 19th-ranked UCLA on Friday and 78-67 to Missouri on Thursday. The Bruins and Tigers shared the tournament title.
“It’s a great school. It’s the kind of school I want to be part of: excellence in everything — academically, athletically, being in Chicago. Being able to compete at the highest level in the Big Ten.
“It’s going to take time. But for me, a this point of my career, it was the right place to get my first opportunity as a head coach.”
For most first-year coaches, there’s a breaking-in period. Rarely does it go smoothly. With the Wildcats 4-4 after going 2-2 in the LVI, Collins is seeing progress.
“I’m seeing a lot of fight,” he said. “We never quit. We keep playing. We get in early foul trouble, but we keep battling.”
Collins was fortunate to become part of Krzyzewski’s tree, which has seen several other former assistants land jobs at high-powered academic institutions, such as Mike Brey at Notre Dame, Tommy Amaker at Harvard and Johnny Dawkins at Stanford. Not only did Collins get a chance to grow working at Duke, Krzyzewski also put him to work with the USA Basketball national team. Collins did a number of tasks, including live scouting, film work and helping with practices.
“I was so blessed to be able to work with Coach and with (USA Basketball chairman) Jerry Colangelo and to work with the greatest players in the world,” Collins said. “It was like a coaching clinic every day being around Coach K, Jerry Colangelo, Jim Boeheim, Mike D’Antoni and Nate McMillan. Listening to the different philosophies. Why coaches do certain things in certain situations. It was like getting a doctorate in basketball.”
Collins said being in charge of a program has been an adjustment.
“It’s a whole new ballgame, but I also know I have a lot to learn,” he said. “Everyone’s tugging on you. Everyone wants your time, whether it’s recruiting, being with your team, raising money, so you have to prioritize and manage your time well, and you can’t be everything to everyone. That’s the biggest challenge.
“I have a great staff that helps me through every situation. At the end of the day, I know I’m going to make my mistakes. But I’m going to learn, and the only way you’re going to get better is to actually experience (being a head coach).”
Collins said he’ll never forget a piece of advice from Krzyzewski.
“The best advice he ever gave me was you want to take everything you’ve learned from everyone you’ve been around but use your own personality,” Collins said. “You have to be yourself. Don’t be Coach K. Don’t be your dad. Just be you.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.