EVANSTON — Chris Collins asks Illinois State’s basketball fans to take it easy on his dad Sunday.
Doug Collins, the former ISU All-American whose name is on the court at Redbird Arena, won’t be cheering for his alma mater when he watches the 7:30 p.m. game at Welsh-Ryan Arena. That’s understandable because the Redbirds (0-2) are facing Northwestern (1-1), which is under the direction of first-year coach Chris Collins.
“For him, blood comes before anything,” said Chris Collins. “He wants us both to do well. I don’t think people should be upset if he has a purple shirt on. If they know him, he’s a loyal guy who goes with family all the way.”
Chris Collins took the Northwestern job in April after spending the last 13 seasons sitting next to another legend — Mike Krzyzewski. Collins played for Coach K at Duke from 1993-96 and joined the Blue Devils’ staff in 2000, becoming associate head coach in 2008. Duke won two national championships in that time.
Yet Collins’ main influence his whole life has been his father.
After a nine-year NBA career, Doug Collins went on to coach four NBA teams and become an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster. He resigned as the Philadelphia 76ers’ coach last spring and is currently an NBA analyst for ESPN.
“He’s the one I’ve learned the most basketball from the start when we were in the living room after dinner watching games on TV,” said the younger Collins. “We would be talking through the games and situations and figuring out why teams are doing what they’re doing and matchups and all those things.”
Chris Collins grew up in suburban Northbrook when his father coached the Chicago Bulls. He starred at Glenbrook North High School and was named Illinois Mr. Basketball in 1992 before heading to Duke.
Having his father to lean on for advice has been “such a great resource for me starting my first year” at Northwestern, said Collins. The Wildcats have never been to an NCAA Tournament.
“Just the little things, trying to change a culture and trying to bring back a winning attitude and new excitement and kind of reinvent the way we play,” said Collins. “I lean on him for a lot of advice in those areas. He’s really good at being there for me, but not forcing anything on me.
“He allows me to come in and ask him questions and get advice from him. It’s been that way since I’ve been a kid.”
There is another ISU graduate who is helping Chris Collins make the transition, too, as his assistant coach.
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Brian James was Chris Collins’ coach at Glenbrook North. He later went on to be an NBA assistant coach for four teams, including stints with the Detroit Pistons and 76ers when Doug Collins led those teams.
“He had me in my high school years, coached me hard and taught me how to play and how to be tough and how to approach the game,” said Collins.
The last seven months since he took the Northwestern job have been “a whirlwind,” said Collins. He has put together a solid four-man recruiting class ranked as No. 21 by ESPN and now is trying to put in a totally different system than Bill Carmody used the last 14 years with the Wildcats.
Northwestern opened with a 72-55 victory over Eastern Illinois before heading to California and losing at Stanford, 71-58, on Thursday.
ISU coach Dan Muller has a feel for some of Northwestern’s personnel. Senior swingman Drew Crawford scored 20 points as the Wildcats edged the Redbirds, 72-69, in overtime a year ago in the South Padre Invitational championship game.
“They shoot it well. Crawford is really good, and he was good last year when we played them,” said Muller. “They always have four guys on the floor who can shoot … they’ve got some guys who can make some plays.”
Muller has developed a friendship and relationship with Doug Collins, who spoke at Muller’s coaching clinic in late September. The ISU coach knows Collins will be rooting for his son Sunday — and the Redbirds in every other game they play.
“There’s no one who loves Illinois State more than he does,” said Chris Collins of his father. “What that school has meant to him and allowed him to do with his life is all from all the people around there, the coaches he had and professors.
“My mother (Kathy) is a graduate from there as well. We’ve always loved Illinois State, myself as well. As a kid I spent numerous summers in Bloomington and hanging with family friends.”
Familiar name: Illinois State at Northwestern
Time: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Broadcast: WJBC (1230 AM, 93.7 FM)