To most people, assistant basketball coaches are probably viewed as a dime a dozen. If a basketball program was a band, the assistant coach would play bass. They aren’t flashy, but until they are gone, you just don’t realize how crucial they are to the harmony.
This season, Duke fans are going to find out just how good a bass player Chris Collins was, as the former associate head coach left to take over a Northwestern program that has never, in its entire history, made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Believe it or not, it won’t be Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly or Seth Curry that the Blue Devils have to worry most about replacing. For Mike Krzyzewski, finding players to plug those holes is easy. Heck, just this season he’s got Jabari Parker, one of the top recruits in the nation and a surefire top-five pick in next year’s NBA Draft coming on board, along with fellow McDonald’s All-American Matt Jones.
That’s not even mentioning Semi Ojeleye, a 6-foot-7 forward who averaged 38.1 points as a high school senior on his way to being named the Parade National Player of the Year.
But, replacing Collins on the bench is going to be a different animal altogether. Collins was a standout guard for the Blue Devils who joined Krzyzewski’s staff in 2000, and has been his right-hand man pretty much ever since. He’s become such an important cog that Krzyzewski has appointed him to his staff with USA Basketball, where he helped the national team bring home the gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
As mentioned, the talent turnover at Duke has become standard, and one the main reasons that Krzyzewski hasn’t missed a beat at Duke is because of its stalwart recruiting. Collins was a key figure on the recruiting scene, as Northwestern is no doubt hoping to see as he begins his tenure with the Wildcats.
Collins has already landed the program’s first top-75 recruit since 1993 in Vic Law. Chicago is an extremely fertile recruiting ground, and somehow the city’s two major schools, Northwestern and DePaul, continually fail to keep that talent home. Case in point: the aforementioned Jabari Parker, who grew up on the South Side. Collins was a big part of the reason he committed to Duke.
And now, if Collins is able to translate his recruiting success onto the hardwood, it may not be so easy for Duke to waltz into a Chicago high school like Simeon and steal such talented players from Northwestern’s own backyard.