We'll have more coverage later form Chris Collins' press conference, including a Storify Twitter recap and another full-length article on what Collins had to say. However, here are our initial reactions to the press conference and Collins' ambitions in Evanston.
1. Turning challenges into strengths
In some ways, Northwestern might be the toughest job in college basketball. Collins understands that. He understands the stringent academic standards and the run-down facilities could scare away some recruits. He understands that it's an incredible challenge to take a program that has never been to the NCAA Tournament and turn it into a nationally respected program. However, he also thinks he can take what Northwestern has to offer, and sell that to recruits, and that's what athletic director Jim Phillips was looking for all along.
In his last press conference before he was fired, Bill Carmody noted that the facilities are worse compared to his competitors in recruiting, than they were when he got there. That made the job even tougher than it was before. However, Collins isn't focused on that. Rather than asking NU for a new stadium and new facilities — he knows that will come, but it will be awhile — he wants to take what NU has and make the best of it. That means energizing the fan base, rather than focusing on where the fans watch the games. After all, what's a great arena if it doesn't have fans in it? Collins also talked about the ability to sell Chicago — "the greatest sports city in the world" — to potential recruits, and he noted there were plenty of recruits who want a balance between academics and athletics like Northwestern can offer. "I like being at a place that values academics. I intend to recruit high talent, high character," he said.
Collins really was the perfect fit. Some will say it's because he's from the area, and some will say it's because he has experience at a school with strong academics. However, Collins fits best at NU because he's willing to embrace the good qualities NU has to offer, sell those to recruits, and turn the negatives — like a non-state-of-the-art arena — and turn them into positives. It's tough to sell the NU program, but Collins seems fit for the task, and that's exactly what Phillips was looking for.
2. What about next year?
A lot of the talk at Collins' press conference was about the future. Collins talked about his recruiting pitch and his plan to make successful long-term. However, he faces a unique situation next year, in which he'll have none of his own guys. Next year's team was used to a radically different system than the one that Collins will likely implement. Carmody's teams employed the Princeton offense each year, and he recruited to that system. Collins' approach will be different — he'll find the best players he can, then change the system based on their skill sets.
One of Collins' first priorities will be to talk to Jaren Sina and Drew Crawford, since getting them to stay with NU — Crawford, especially — will be essential to the Wildcats' success next year. Even if just Crawford is back from those two, NU will also have proven players like JerShon Cobb, Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps back, as well as promising young guys like Alex Olah, Kale Abrahamson and Sanjay Lumpkin. It may be the most talent NU has ever had. "There is talent in this program," Collins said. "I believe there's enough to be competitive this year." Collins calls himself a "basketball junkie" and already has seen enough NU games to know what he's working with.
With any coaching change, there is expected to be some adjustment. This team won't be picked to make the NCAA Tournament next year, but there certainly is potential. If Collins can find a system that fits the current personnel, NU could surprise some people in the first year of the Collins era.
3. Early Priorities and Other Notes
- Collins' priorities in the coming weeks — other than re-recruiting Sina and Crawford — will be to build a staff and to recruit. You can't recruit without a staff, and while no final decisions have been made, Collins said the staff will be filled out quickly. As Collins said, April is an important month for next year's recruiting, so a staff must be in place soon. Collins said he will talk to everyone on the current staff before making any decisions.
- There has been speculation that Chris' father, Doug Collins — former Chicago Bulls and current Philadelphia 76ers coach — will join his son on the sidelines. Chris didn't rule that out eventually, but Doug is still coaching in the NBA. However, he will still play a role in heaping his son behind the scenes.
- An interesting tidbit: Collins was asked about the struggles of other Duke assistants. His response: ""If you're going to measure success with what Coach K's done, then everyone's a failure."
- Overall, Collins seems extremely and outwardly driven to make NU a winner, and that's what the Wildcats need — someone who can put a good face on the program and aggressively promote it. This has been billed as a perfect fit, and while time and on-court results will tell, Collins' first impression couldn't have gone over much better with a fan base that is yearning to finally see some success.