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Chris Collins: Northwestern ‘everything I was looking for’

Chris Collins was introduced as new Northwestern basketball coach Tuesday. | AP

Chris Collins was introduced as the new Northwestern basketball coach on Tuesday. | AP

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Updated: March 28, 2013 9:54PM

Reporters were told new Northwestern coach Chris Collins wouldn’t be available to them before Duke’s practice Thursday at Lucas Oil Arena, but he was excited enough about his new job to answer a few questions just the same.

‘‘I was always looking for the right fit, and when I had a chance to meet with the administration, president [Morton] Schapiro and [athletic director] Jim Phillips, it was everything I was looking for — great school, great area, great conference and an opportunity to build a program,’’ said Collins, an associate head coach at Duke.

The Wildcats late Wednesday announced Collins, a former McDonald’s All-American from Glenbrook North, would replace Bill Carmody as their coach, but Collins will continue to assist Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski until the Blue Devils’ NCAA tournament run ends. Duke plays Michigan State in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday.

‘‘I’m excited,’’ Collins said. ‘‘It’s a great fit for me. It’s a great fit for my family. It’s where I grew up. Chicago is my home. It’s a great school, not only athletically but academically. It’s a great fit for everything I was looking for, and I’m excited about getting started.’’

Collins didn’t want to address some of the issues he will face at NU, but it’s fair to say he sees an opportunity where others see challenges such as outdated facilities, high academic standards and a lack of tradition.

‘‘That’s who Chris is,’’ fellow Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. ‘‘That’s what [Krzyzewski] teaches us. You have to find the strengths of a place, and Northwestern has more strengths than weaknesses. Just because it hasn’t achieved something doesn’t mean there are limits to achieving. That’s the way Chris look at it.’’

Meanwhile, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said that it’s all about recruiting and that NU must make ‘‘a total commitment to basketball. There are a lot of factors that go into being successful.’’

Duke players are thrilled Collins will have a chance to be a head coach but are sad to see him go.

‘‘He’s a great X-and-O coach and inspires you, but he also cares about you on and off the court,’’ Blue Devils freshman Rasheed Sulaimon said. ‘‘[All the coaches] really connect with you on a deeper level than just basketball. At the same time, they know all your goals personally and collectively as a team, and they are going to do everything they can to help you reach your potential. Whenever you need them, they are willing to help with no questions asked.’’

NU players soon will learn one major difference between Carmody and Collins is that Collins, 38, still competes during practice, which makes him that much more effective, Duke sophomore Quinn Cook said.

‘‘He really likes to get up and down and put the ball in the hole,’’ Cook said. ‘‘That’s how he was as a player. But he can also do the X’s and O’s, the personnel, the scouting reports and defending plays. His mind is like a 50-year-old who has five national championships. He knows a lot about the game.’’

Collins has forged an even tighter bond with players he has recruited, including many from Chicago.

‘‘He is from Chicago,’’ Duke assistant Jeff Capel said. ‘‘If you look at the guys Duke has been able to get from Chicago since he has been here, he has played a very key part in the recruitment of those guys.

‘‘Besides, Chris is such an incredibly personable person. He will work very hard to build relationships with not only the kids but the coaches in the state and the surrounding states in the Midwest. Once he gets that going, he will be able to transfer that to the national relationships he has developed here at Duke.’’

Collins never has been a head coach before, although he has learned from Krzyzewski and his father, Doug, who used to coach the Bulls and now coaches the Philadelphia 76ers.

While Krzyzewski’s assistants haven’t always succeeded, Wojciechowski said it’s not because Krzyzewski puts restrictions on them.

‘‘He gives us a great deal of responsibility and a lot of freedom,’’ Wojciechowski said. ‘‘We’re responsible for a number of aspects of the program and not just one specific aspect, from recruiting to game scouting to pregame preparation and talks to game adjustments. Assistants at other programs might be responsible for one of those areas. Maybe he’s a recruiting coach or an offensive coach. [Krzyzewski] gives us the ability to do all those things. It’s great preparation for the future.

‘‘Then he gives us freedom to be ourselves. We’re allowed to talk in practice. At times, we talk more than he does. We deliver scouting reports. That works to our advantage in learning how to be a coach.’’

Collins said he will miss Duke, where he starred as a player and has been an assistant for 13 years. He said he feels like he’s a senior making his final tournament run all over again.

‘‘It’s very difficult,’’ he said of leaving Duke. ‘‘I played at Duke. [Krzyzewski] has been like a father to me. Everything I have in this business is because of making the decision to play for him in high school — being able to coach in the Olympics and win national championships and go to Final Fours. I’m forever grateful for everything Duke has meant to me, and that will never go away.’’

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