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April 3, 2013

No one's expectations are higher than Collins'

EVANSTON-No renovations were made Tuesday to glorify Welsh-Ryan Arena, nor did any McDonald's All-Americans announce their intentions to play basketball at Northwestern.

Still, positive change was palpable in Evanston as newly hired head coach Chris Collins described his vision of a bright future for Wildcat basketball at his introductory press conference.

"You all may talk about going to the NCAA Tournament and all those things, and sure, that's going to be a great milestone when we get there," the 38-year-old Collins said. "But my goal coming to Northwestern is to build a top-notch basketball program."

Collins will be facing expectations in Evanston that are at an all-time high. Former head coach Bill Carmody did everything but take the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament, so that will be the minimum bar for Northwestern's 24th head basketball coach.

Yet from the moment Collins began to speak, he made it clear that no one has higher expectations than Collins himself. He plans to win -- and sooner rather than later.

"I wanna come in, [and] I wanna win this season," Collins said. "I believe in the talent we have in this program."

Building Northwestern into a perennial contender will be difficult. Collins is a proven recruiter, having lured Illinois Mr. Basketballs like Jon Scheyer and Jabari Parker to Durham. But his lack of head coaching experience could certainly be pointed to as a glaring hole in an otherwise impressive résumé.

While his youth, passion and hometown ties seem to suggest reason to believe in the potential of this recent hire, one overarching question still remains: Can he coach?

If you ask his dad, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins, the answer couldn't be clearer. The elder Collins, who journeyed to Evanston for his son's introductory press conference thanks to a fortunate gap in the Sixers' schedule, rejected the notion that his son's coaching ability was still unproven.

"He's ready to roll," Doug Collins said. "He's been ready for a while."

Doug Collins' confidence in his son stems from Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski's tendency to rely heavily on his assistant coaches. Chris earned NCAA championship rings in 2001 and 2010 while serving on the Blue Devils' bench.

"Chris hasn't just recruited, he's had a chance to coach," Doug Collins said.

Now he has a chance to prove it on the big stage of the Big Ten, which Chris called the best conference "by far" in college basketball this season.

Among Collins' first orders of business will be to try to assure Drew Crawford's spot on the roster and convince touted recruit Jaren Sina to re-sign with the Wildcats. Per NCAA rules, Collins was unable to comment on the status of Sina, though Collins reportedly spoke to him on the phone last weekend.

If Sina does re-sign, Collins will have just one scholarship slot available to add to the roster of players from the Carmody era. Collins was unwilling to say which offensive system would replace the Princeton offense that has been Northwestern's staple for the past 13 seasons.

Instead, the players on the roster each fall will help to determine the offensive and defensive schemes.

"I will create a system that I feel will benefit the guys that we have," he said.

Collins knows that he has never sat in the first seat on the bench, so he plans to lean on his coaching staff to make up for his own weaknesses as a coach. Currently, however, he said he has made no decisions regarding the staff. Collins will meet individually with each member of Carmody's former staff in order to ensure the best interests of the program, he said.

Still, his most important resource may not even be in Evanston. After taking his father's guidance for years as an assistant coach, Collins expressed gratitude for his father's basketball expertise.

"He asks me for advice, I always ask him for advice," Collins said. "It's an amazing resource."

Collins made clear his desire to develop his own system and his own style, even with the knowledge of his father and Krzyzewski readily available.

"No matter what you learn from who your mentors are," Collins said, "you have to be yourself and you have coach in your own style and you have to follow your own instincts. That's what I plan to do."

Collins' style will likely be an emotional one. He choked up twice during the press conference, when he spoke about his family and how lucky he was to get his first opportunity at Northwestern, which he has long considered to be a dream job.

If Carmody had a dry sense of humor, maybe Collins will become known for wet eyes.

"It's a good day," Collins said, with his voice breaking. "I'm really excited to be here, and I can't wait to get to work."

Undoubtedly, the road to the NCAA tournament remains daunting. But on Tuesday morning, in a decked out Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Collins' passion and unbridled optimism was infectious.

For the first time in a long time, what often seemed to be an unattainable goal once again seems attainable.



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