When Northwestern made the decision to hire former Duke associate head coach Chris Collins as its new head coach in late March, part of the reason they decided on the former Glenbrook North star was his ability to make an impact recruiting kids in the Chicagoland area. A 12-year assistant at Duke, Collins was instrumental in the recruitment of an Illinois high school basketball legend when Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer committed to Duke in the class of 2006, so he's done it before.
Despite playing in the Big Ten and with a recruiting base as talent-laden as the Chicagoland area, Northwestern is still seeking its first NCAA tournament appearance in program history, and the hope is that Collins can get the Wildcats to the Big Dance with the help of some local talent.
Collins is certainly off to a great start on the recruiting trail as he currently holds commitments from two high-profile 2014 wings from the area as part of his first recruiting class at Northwestern. St. Rita 6-foot-7 small forward Vic Law played in the Nike EYBL with Meanstreets and is a consensus top-100 player that was seen as a major recruiting coup for Collins, and Fenwick 6-foot-5 shooting guard Scott Lindsey emerged during the July live evaluation period on the AAU circuit with Illinois Old School and became a priority wing recruit for programs like Vanderbilt, Nevada and Iowa. They round out a class that also includes Indiana-native and 6-foot-4 combo guard Bryant McIntosh and 6-foot-9 forward Gavin Skelly from Ohio.
Both Law and Lindsey were aggressively recruited by high-major programs in and out of the Midwest and were sought after by a number of different conferences. In the end, Law and Lindsey fit for Northwestern because they are both high-character people, and the Wildcats should be thrilled to receive two hard-working players that developed and got better throughout the course of their high school careers.
Collins gives Northwestern the kind of recruiting credibility that they have dreamed of. The son of former NBA head coach and NBA All Star Doug Collins, Chris was a McDonald's All-American himself, and he recruited plenty of his own Burger Boys to Duke that went on to the NBA. The Wildcats have put players in the NBA, but it's been few and far between. Northwestern is hoping Collins can give the program some talent and there's a few reasons why.
Though former coach Bill Carmody is a very well-respected coach, he had clearly worn out his welcome locally as his slower paced Princeton-style offense was not well regarded with the current culture of youth basketball. Collins is going to open it up a little more and let his athletes play as Northwestern's coach, and kids identify more with that style of play. If you speak to high school basketball players and ask how they'd like to play in college, nine out of 10 of them will say, "up and down."
Many Big Ten players also want to make a career in basketball, and Collins has coached and developed the backcourt at Duke for years and been instrumental in building up pros. High school players especially respect Collins working as an assistant coach for the 2008 and 2012 USA Olympic team as Collins earned gold medals in both while working with the best players in the world like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Collins can speak to recruits, and they listen when he's telling stories about working with their heroes and winning gold medals.
Collins also has a good staff of assistant coaches that he has put around him including former Glenbrook North head coach and NBA assistant coach Brian James, former Wildcat and respected recruiter Patrick Baldwin and Chicago native and noted area recruiter Armon Gates.
The question for Collins and Northwestern will be if they can get the talent to make the NCAA tournament in one of the best basketball leagues in the country? The Big Ten regularly has six to seven teams in the NCAA tournament field of late, and its a crowded situation near the top of the standings — and recruiting rankings — every season.
Collins and his staff had to play catch-up on the 2014 class and its many scholarship needs this spring and summer, but they've also given some attention to the younger classes in the area.
Plainfield East shooting guard Aaron Jordan and St. Joseph combo guard Jordan Ash have both picked up offers and taken unofficial visits to Evanston in the 2015 class, and 2015 forward Evan Boudreaux from Lake Forest also claims a scholarship offer and has been recruited actively since his early high school days with the previous staff. In 2016, Northwestern has watched Hinsdale South 6-foot-9 center Barret Benson this fall, and talented freshman point guard Nojel Eastern — who plays for Evanston — also took an unofficial visit in August.
There's still time for Collins and his staff to work on 2015, 2016 and 2017, but they're off to a sound start in the 2014 class with a pair of highly recruited local players, and that trend could continue if Collins shows well as a first-year coach.