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MORRISSEY: Untested Collins brings hope to middling NU basketball program

FILE - In this Jan. 30 2013 file phoDuke coach Mike Krzyzewski right assistant coach Chris Collins left talk their

FILE - In this Jan. 30, 2013, file photo, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, right, and assistant coach Chris Collins, left, talk to their players during an NCAA college basketball game against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. Northwestern hired Collins on Tuesday night, March 27, 2013, to replace the fired Bill Carmody, hoping he can finally lead the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament and into the upper echelon of the Big Ten. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

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Updated: March 27, 2013 11:21PM



A few days before Northwestern fired Bill Carmody, I wrote that, as an alum, I didn’t care about the school’s basketball program, one way or the other. As a sports fan, I didn’t give a whit either.

Now I do.

Just like that, Northwestern has gone from uninspiring to interesting.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as a perfect fit for NU’s coaching job, but Chris Collins comes close. He hails from another elite center of learning, Duke, even if that school has looser standards than Northwestern when it comes to admitting tall people who can jump high. He worked under a great coach, Mike Krzyzewski, and was sired by another, Doug Collins. He’s from the Chicago area.

Now, what does all of that mean? Not a whole lot right now. Collins has a monumental task ahead of him. That can’t be understated. The Wildcats have not been to the NCAA tournament in school history for a reason – actually, for all sorts of reasons that would require massive amounts of words to detail.

But he has a chance to get Northwestern there.

Thanks to 13 years as an assistant under Coach K, he comes to Evanston with the aura of a head coach, even though he has never been one. He’ll be able to go into recruits’ home and kids will recognize his pedigree, if not his name.

High expectations are going to collide with the reality of NU -- tough entrance requirements, a dismal basketball history, a monster of a conference and sub-par facilities. When the dust clears from that collision, the real work will begin for Collins.

Can he coach? Can he motivate? Can he recruit? I don’t know, but it will be interesting to watch. And right now, that’s the most important thing of all. This is interesting. This is intriguing. I can’t remember the last time I thought that about Northwestern hoops.

Lots of people are holding up football coach Pat Fitzgerald as the ideal here, to which I would say: down, boy. Fitz had the luxury of building on the success of his predecessors, Gary Barnett and Randy Walker. He inherited a program that was competitive. Collins will inherit a middling program. Some people have described Fitzgerald as “a rock star.’’ I don’t see it, but maybe when he walks down Sheridan Road, he draws a crowd. If Collins were to give Northwestern a regular presence in the NCAA Tournament, groupies, limo rides and snifters of cognac wouldn’t be far behind.

If NU football can succeed, there’s no reason NU basketball can’t taste success once in a while.

Now it’s up to the former Glenbrook North star. Seventy-five years of NU basketball history says, Good luck with that. But this looks like the perfect marriage of time, place, coach and, hopefully, institutional will.

There is nothing more incriminating for a program than public apathy. NU athletic director Jim Phillips knew that, which is why he zeroed in on Collins from the start. Good move.

Dare I say it? This could be fun.



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