Q&A w/ Duke Assistant Chris Collins

March 17th, 2010
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As part of his 2010 NCAA Tournament Q&A series, Jon Teitel chats with Duke assistant Chris Collins, a former Blue Devils captain and high-school All-American. They talk about what its like to be captain and Duke and whether their "big three" will be successful in March:

JT:   Your father Doug is a former NBA head coach and All-Star player: how has he helped you to become a better coach, and what was it like to grow up with a father who was such a great player? 


CC:   It was an amazing childhood: I was always around the game of basketball ever since I was a little kid, when my dad played for the 76ers.  My main memories are from when he was coaching the Bulls while I was in middle school.  I got to go to practices and watch Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, all those guys, and really learn from watching the great players work.  My dad and I have a special relationship with basketball because we both love the game so much.  So much of what I learned from him was from being at home and watching games together. While the game is going on, we talk about strategy, matchups, X’s and O’s: that is how I learned the game, and to this day we still talk about the game and what he sees.  For me to have 2 mentors like my dad and Coach K, they have been the 2 most influential people in my life in terms of being a coach.

JT:   In 1992 you won the 3-PT contest at the McDonald's All-American game: how important a weapon is the 3-PT shot for the current Duke team, and what is your own secret for 3-PT shooting?  


CC:   I do not know if there is a secret. The 1st thing is to try to recruit guys who can shoot, so that is something that we really value: to be able to put the ball in the basket.  We want to bring guys in that know how to shoot.  It has been a big part of what we do because of the spacing.  When you have the ability to shoot the 3, it really spreads the defense out and allows you to drive the ball.  It also gives you lanes for offensive rebounds and keeps the defense spread out.  We really try to incorporate it into our offense and certainly with this team (especially with our 3 perimeter guys) it is one of the main weapons that we have in our offense.

JT:   As a former one yourself, what does it take to be a captain at Duke, and is there even more responsibility during the tourney?  


CC:   I think in our program being a captain is not taken lightly. That is part of Coach K’s military background: when you are the captain of a unit, it is a big responsibility. You are responsible for your group at all times, in good times and bad, and you have to make sure your group is ready to play.  I think it is something that you learn over time: you learn from the culture. For me, I came in and learned from Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and the other older players.  It is the same thing now: Mason Plumlee, Andre Dawkins, and Ryan Kelly are learning from Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas, and Brian Zoubek.  I think that is how you do it: you learn from the older guys, and it is something going into the tourney that is very valuable. There are so many distractions this time of year: a lot of people want to talk to you, and you can get caught up in the hype of the tourney.  It is really important for the leadership of your team to make sure that you stay focused with what you are doing to win ballgames.

JT:   In 1994 you made it to the title game before losing to Arkansas: what did that great tourney run teach you about what it takes to win in the tourney, and what are your memories of the title game?  


CC:   For me as a player, that tournament was a special memory.  I think the 1st thing you realize is how hard it is to get all the way to the championship game.  You have to play well and fight through times when you do not play as well. When the shots are not falling, you still have to find out how to win a game or 2 when you are not clicking on all cylinders. For me, playing in that national championship game was a dream come true. I remember going out there for the jump ball at the start of the game and looking around before they tossed up the ball and thinking, “Man, this is what I have dreamed of my whole life.” Once you get into the game, you kind of lose yourself in playing, but before that I realized that I was playing in the championship game and had a chance to win the whole thing. It was a pretty special memory.

JT:   What kind of work did you do for the USA Basketball Senior National Team leading up to the 2008 Olympics, and what did it mean to you to see Team USA win a gold medal?  


CC:   I was very fortunate.  Coach K had Steve Wojciechowski and I do a little bit of everything to help the staff.  We were there in practice to help with the drills: we were kind of the young legs out there to help with shooting drills and in any other way we could.  We assisted in some of the scouting, and worked alongside the assistant coaches (particularly Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni) doing the preparation for the games.  It was an amazing learning experience to be around those other coaches, to get a better feel for the international game, and to learn some of the things they are doing around the world that we do not do here. I feel that I learned a lot.  Personally, the Olympic experience was very special.  Many people know that in 1972 my dad was on the U.S. Olympic team that was robbed of their gold medal.  He made a pair of FT at the end of the game that should have won the game, before all the controversy started. For our family to win a gold medal, for him to be a part of that broadcasting the game, and for me being a part of the staff, it brought a lot of joy to our family for the 35 years that we hurt over him not winning the gold medal.

JT:   Your team is well-balanced offensively with 3 great scorers. Do you think that you will need all 3 to produce in order to make a deep run, or do you feel confident that the team can pick up the slack if 1 of the 3 happens to have a cold shooting night? 


CC:    I think we do need those guys to play well: there is no question about it.  I think the encouraging thing is that there have been countless games this year when 1 or 2 of those guys have not shot it as well.  A perfect example of that was in the ACC Championship game: I think Kyle was 3-of-15 and Jon was 4-of-13.  Both of those guys were not hitting shots, but because of our defense and mental toughness, we hung around and kept ourselves in the game.  At the end, they were able to make some big plays to help us win.  I do feel that we put ourselves in the best chance to win if they all play well, but I also feel that we are equipped if 1 or 2 of them are a little cold, as we have shown that we can win games.

JT:   Is playing on Friday a benefit instead of starting a day earlier?


CC:   It is different.  We have known since Sunday, which has given us a little extra preparation going into the 1st-round game.  I think that playing on Friday does help us because we had 3 emotional games in the ACC tourney, and did have to play Sunday into the later afternoon.  It gave us a chance on Monday to rest our legs, to recharge, and get ready for the week ahead.  I am hoping that will be a little bit of an advantage by having an extra day for our guys.  In terms of getting ready for our 1st opponent, it does make it tighter, as it gives you 2 less days to watch those teams and get ready.  We are trying to get ready for both teams.  They are both conference champions on winning streaks and are confident, so we will do our best to get our guys ready quickly for Friday’s game.

JT:   You started this decade as an assistant coach on the 2001 NCAA championship team, and you are concluding this decade as assistant coach on a team that is a #1-seed: what is your favorite memory from the past 10 years, and what do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?  


CC:   I have so many great memories, but obviously winning is big. Winning a national championship in 2001 was a dream come true: being a part of that team and finally winning, doing something that you always dreamed of doing.  A special memory for me was J.J. Redick’s senior night game.  Having a close relationship with him and going through the journey with him, and walking off the court with him after his last game as a senior is something that I will always remember, even though it was a tough moment just because of everything that we had been through for 4 years. Those are the 2 games that really stick out for me. In terms of 10 years for now, I do not know what the future holds.  I hope to still be coaching: I love what I am doing, and I love to teach these young guys and giving back to the game which a lot of people have given to me.  Hopefully I will still be coaching and doing what I love to do: being around the game of basketball that has been so good to me my whole life. 

Other 2010 NCAA Tournament Interviews:

Montana G Anthony Johnson

Notre Dame F Tim Abromaitis

Siena G Ronald Moore

Lehigh Coach Brett Reed

UCSB Coach Bob Williams