EVANSTON, Ill. – Point guard Fran McCaffery was entering his senior season at Penn when coach Bob Weinhauer hired a new assistant.
It was someone McCaffery was very familiar with — someone he idolized as a kid growing up in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Doug Collins retired after the 1980-81 NBA season, and wanted to get into coaching. He landed at Penn, and taught players like McCaffery some of his secrets. Collins would also bring his young son, Chris, to practices and games.
Saturday, McCaffery will coach against Chris Collins when No. 10 Iowa plays Northwestern at 11 a.m. in Welsh-Ryan Arena.
McCaffery was in the eighth grade when the 76ers used the No. 1 pick of the 1973 NBA Draft to select Doug Collins, an all-America guard at Illinois State.
“He was my favorite player,” McCaffery said. “I watched him when I used to go to games. And he’d be playing with Dr. J (Julius Erving) and all that. So I looked at him as a great player, and someone you could idolize.”
Collins the player, a four-time All-Star with 17.9-point career scoring average in the NBA, became Coach Collins in the 1981-82 season at Penn.
“His knowledge of how to play the game was really different when it came to so many different things,” McCaffery said. “How to get open. He was one of the best, I guess, at moving without the ball. He was always open. And he would teach us how he did that. He could also play with the ball, obviously. He would talk to us about that.”
There were also pointers on playing off screens, and using the pick-and-roll from a man who went on to be the head coach for the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers.
“He had incredible credibility when he opened his mouth because we had all watched him play as a pro,” McCaffery said. “We really listened to him, and valued his input. He was also one of the toughest guys that I can remember as a competitor.”
McCaffery was an assistant coach at Notre Dame when he tried to recruit Chris Collins, who was Mr. Basketball in Illinois as a senior. Collins eventually picked Duke over Iowa.
Later, their recruiting paths would cross when Chris was on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke.
“I have tremendous respect for him,” McCaffery said of the younger Collins.
Iowa, 4-2 in the Big Ten and 15-4 overall, manhandled the Wildcats in the first meeting Jan. 9 in Iowa City, 93-67. McCaffery was suspended from that game by the Big Ten Conference after being ejected in the previous game at Wisconsin.
Northwestern has won three of four games since then, turning its defense up a notch while improving to 3-4 in the Big Ten and 10-10 overall. Saturday’s game is sandwiched between the Hawkeyes’ 75-67 loss Wednesday at No. 21 Michigan and Tuesday’s home game against No. 3 Michigan State.
But McCaffery doesn’t fear a trap game.
“Not at all,” McCaffery said. “Especially in light of the fact that they’re won three of the last four. Northwestern has everyone’s attention.”
It is a big game if Iowa wants to keep Big Ten title momentum and avoid a second straight league loss. The Hawkeyes, Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State are the only Big Ten teams to avoid back-to-back league losses this season.
“Any time you get beat you want to learn from it and bounce back,” McCaffery said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Who: Iowa (15-4, 4-2 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (10-10, 3-4 Big Ten)
Specifics: 11 a.m. at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Ill.
TV: Big Ten Network.
Radio: WHO-AM, D.M.
Hawkeye preview: After allowing 93 points in a 26-point loss at Iowa on Jan. 9, Northwestern has allowed its last four opponents (Illinois, Michigan State, at Indiana, Purdue) an average of just 51 points a game. Eight of the Wildcats’ 10 victories this season have come at home.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball