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Chris Collins Works to Drum Up Student Support

Chris Collins has been busy on the recruiting trail ever since his arrival at Northwestern, getting the Wildcats’ name in the mix with a number of top players in Chicago. However, his most difficult recruiting pitch of all might involve NU’s students.

It’s no secret that the student sections at Welsh-Ryan Arena have had some pretty dismal crowds over the past few years, but Collins is trying to capitalize on the newfound momentum surrounding the program after his hire, and he’s using that momentum to try to convince students to come out to games. On Tuesday night, he was at the Norris University Center giving his pitch to students, while serving them a late-night breakfast in their preparation for finals.

“We wanted to do something with finals, especially with this being a tough week academically,” Collins said. “The number one way to make it better is have great student support. You look at any great environment in college basketball, the number one reason why it’s a great environment is because of a passionate student fan base.”

When Collins arrived on campus, he was bombarded with questions about just how high the program could go in its current state, with high academic standards and sub-par facilities. Those were things that former coach Bill Carmody felt were holding the program back, especially in recruiting.

However, Collins took a different approach. He noted that Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, which is hardly a palace — it holds 9,314 fans, while Welsh-Ryan holds 8,117 — is considered one of the toughest places to play in college basketball because of the fans, not its size. Essentially, he’s trying to bring the Duke experience to Evanston.

“I think (both situations are) very similar,” he said. “Both of the schools are one of the few that are still out there that’s free student admission. All you’ve got to do is show up with your ID card and you get into the games.

“Certainly, there was a standard that was set throughout the years (at Duke), so as students came in to the school, they knew what was done in front of them and they wanted to live up to that standard. We hope to try to build some of that here; we’re in the beginning stages of that, and the first way to do that is for the students to get to know our guys and to know me. And the way to do that is to be visible on campus, to show up to different things, to try to interact and get a little bit of pub for the program.”

Over time, Collins knows renovations to Welsh-Ryan will be necessary in order for NU to stay competitive in recruiting. But right now, he wants “to try to control what we can control,” which means drumming up fan interest. That isn’t just limited to serving late-night breakfasts.

“We’re continuing to work on the transportation system to try to make it the best we can, where students know when they can get the shuttles,” he said. “We know it gets cold in the winter time and it’s tough to get over to Welsh-Ryan.”

Collins also noted that there will be activities in the fall for students and fans, and that the athletic department and staff are still trying to figure out events to drum up support once schools starts up again. He didn’t say what kind of activities would take place, but he didn’t rule out a Midnight Madness type of event.

“Certainly, it’s one step at a time, but any kind of thing like that (Midnight Madness) — and we haven’t made any final decisions on what we’re doing yet in the fall — but we want to make it exciting, we want to make it fun for our players and fun for the student body to get behind the basketball (team) and our season,” Collins said. "Like I said, we have 15 or 16 nights where we want to make it a party in there in Welsh-Ryan, and hopefully the students will come be a part of it.”