If we’re being completely honest, it’ll likely be more than a few years before we see a former Wildcat suit it up for Team USA. But there is indeed a delegate from Northwestern basketball in Las Vegas for the national team’s pre-World Cup training camp: Chris Collins. And while there might not be any substantive benefit right now, Collins' involvement with the national team is a big boost for the program.
Any Publicity is Good Publicity
One of the first steps to turning around any college sports program that traditionally hasn’t been successful is raising awareness of the program. By simply being present in Las Vegas, Collins is surrounding himself with the biggest names in the sport. To have Northwestern even enter the conversation of USA Basketball, no matter what capacity, gives NU basketball added legitimacy.
"I think it helps our program," Collins said. "Any time you get the national exposure and get our program’s name out there, especially a program that’s trying to build and establish ourselves and gain some respectability."
It’s not unrealistic to envision a scenario in which a talented young basketball prospect hears "Northwestern" for the first time because of Collins, then looks up the school and realizes the elite blend of academics and athletics that it offers and gets his heart set on attending NU in a few years. Or maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself?
The guy can coach, and he’s only going to get better
Any coach would kill to have the opportunity to coach 13 of the sport’s best young players. It’s unlikely that USA Basketball had to sweeten the pot to land their 5th choice — they had virtually every basketball coach in America as a candidate to coach the select team and chose Collins. What that says about his coaching chops shouldn’t be understated: Jerry Colangelo knows a thing or two about coaching, and he hand-picked Collins. That’s got to make every NU fan feel pretty good.
And what an opportunity this is for Collins. The senior national team’s coaching staff features arguably the two most famous coaches in college basketball and two established NBA head coaches. It's clear Collins is sporting his perkiest pair of rabbit ears in Vegas.
"Every day I’m sitting in staff meetings and you’ve got Coach K, Jim Boeheim, (Tom) Thibodeau, Monty Williams, and Jerry Colangelo and I’m listening to those guys talk basketball," Collins said. "So as a young coach, I’m getting better."
It’s a potential plus for recruiting
When Collins sits down with prospects he wants to see come to Evanston, he’ll be able to offer insight no other college coach can.
"All young players want to emulate the pros," he said. "So when I can come back and talk to my team about the way Kevin Durant does drills, or what Derrick Rose does to get better, or Stephen Curry, I think those things help."
This experience beefs up Collins’ resume quite a bit. The Select Team was created to help develop younger players to help them reach the next level, the senior team. It’s not dissimilar from the promise NCAA coaches make to elite prospects: "Come to ______ and we’ll help you become a more complete player to get you prepared for the NBA." Collins’ push becomes a bit more convincing after having coached the likes of Marcus Smart and Trey Burke.
There’ll be some cool stories for roadtrips
For a couple-week period, Collins was stationed in what is the current Mecca of the basketball world surrounded by the game’s most elite talent. He watched the bitter battle between four elite point guards for two spots. He watched Coach K trying to figure out a five-man lineup that has enough beef to compete with Spain’s talented front line while not compromising Team USA’s devastating quickness on the perimeter. He was present as the biggest stars in the sport put their egos aside to come together in search of one common (golden) goal.
It’s the stuff of basketball dreams, and Collins is living it. If I were a Northwestern basketball player, I don’t think I’d be able to leave Coach Collins alone. His summer was pretty darn cool.