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Why Northwestern’s coach has special memories of Iowa

[ 0 ] January 8, 2014 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Chris Collins hits the trifecta Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

He first saw the home of Iowa basketball as a recruit in 1991, and nearly decided to play basketball for the Hawkeyes before Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made a late recruiting pitch.

Collins returned to play a game in the arena in 1993, a 79-76 Duke victory. Now he’s back as Northwestern’s head coach for Thursday’s 8 p.m. Big Ten game against No. 20 Iowa.

Coach Chris Collins and the Northwestern Wildcats come into this game 7-8 overall and 0-2 in Big Ten play. (David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)

Coach Chris Collins and the Northwestern Wildcats come into this game 7-8 overall and 0-2 in Big Ten play. (David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)

“Iowa was one of my final choices,” Collins said. “I loved the coaching staff. Dr. Tom Davis and Gary Close, I had great relationships with them.”

Collins, who was Mr. Basketball in Illinois as a senior at Glenbrook North in suburban Chicago, made an official visit to Iowa with his dad, longtime NBA player and coach Doug Collins, and his mom, Kathy, a native of Cedar Rapids. Collins’ player hosts during his visit were the late Chris Street and Paul Lusk, now the head coach at Missouri State.

“I really hit it off with those guys, and we had a great weekend,” Collins said. “The thing that really stood out was the passion the fans had for the team.”

That was back when shirts-and-skins pickup games drew a full house on football weekends.

“People had signs and were cheering, and it really made a great impression on me, the passion that the Iowa fans had for their athletics program, and their team,” Collins said. “I had a chance to play there my sophomore year, and I just remember what a great environment it was. And what a tough venue it was. We had a hard-fought game. Nothing but really good memories.”

Now, after 13 seasons on Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke, Collins has ventured out on his own with a Big Ten job and a different set of circumstances. Duke won two national titles, had another Final Four appearance and made the Sweet 16 six times while Collins was on the staff. Northwestern has never had a team make the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats come into this game 7-8 overall and 0-2 in Big Ten play. Duke never had more than seven losses in any of the last six seasons Collins was on the bench. For now, rewards are coming in ways other than victories.

“You certainly don’t want to rate yourself on all these moral victories,” Collins said. “That’s really not how I operate. The bottom line, you go into a battle and you either win or you lose. So that’s been tough, especially the last couple of games. But I saw a lot of progress from our first game to our second game.”

The Wildcats opened Big Ten play with a 76-49 loss to Wisconsin, then tumbled at Michigan, 74-51. Northwestern shot just 34.5 from the field against Wisconsin, and 38.8 percent against Michigan, and made 9-of-39 3-pointers.

“We’re just having a hard time putting the ball in the basket right now, which just wears on you mentally,” Collins said.

Collins will be coaching against Kirk Speraw, who will handle head coaching duties for Fran McCaffery. Iowa’s head coach was suspended a game by the Big Ten Tuesday after his ejection from Sunday’s game at Wisconsin.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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