Coaching, as well as basketball, in Chris Collins' blood

Chris Collins with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: Collins was a go-to guy for Coach K during his playing days with the Blue Devils in the mid-1990s.ASSOCIATED PRESS
Chris Collins with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: Collins was a go-to guy for Coach K during his playing days with the Blue Devils in the mid-1990s.ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: February 10, 2013

By Daniel Carp

A s the sports world grows closer and continues to intertwine, coaching trees have become a hot topic of conversation. Watching the disciples of Bill Walsh and Don Shula clash on the gridiron every Sunday takes sports fans back to the iconic figures themselves.

The same holds true on the basketball court, where the many of the top coaches in college hoops have played or coached alongside the likes of Dean Smith, John Wooden or Bob Knight.

Duke associate head coach Chris Collins has crossed paths with a number of exceptional coaching minds in his 15-year coaching career. He has worked alongside (of course) Mike Krzyzewski, Tommy Amaker and Johnny Dawkins, just to name a few.

But Collins will tell you that his greatest influence in coaching came not from his coaching tree, but his family tree. Son of 76ers coach Doug Collins, some of Chris' earliest memories are from his father's playing career in Philadelphia, where Doug was a four-time All-Star with the 76ers.

The neighborhood where Collins lived might as well have been a Mount Rushmore of Philadelphia sports icons. When Chris was growing up, Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski was his next-door neighbor. Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt lived a few houses down. Darryl Dawkins lived in the Collins' house during his rookie year with the 76ers.

Doug and Chris would go to the gym together every chance they got, and Chris picked up the same passion for basketball that his father has become known for in the 40 years he has been associated with the NBA. Doug wasn't the only member of the 76ers who took his child to work. Chris would often run around the locker room with a young Kobe Bryant, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Mike Bibby and Tamika Catchings - a lethal starting five of basketball pedigree.

"He's been in a gym with me since he was born, and he's loved the game," Doug Collins said. "Chris is just as passionate and loves the game as much as his daddy, if not even more. He's always been a student of the game."

It was Chris' studious nature that led him to be a standout at Glenbrook North High School in Illinois when his dad accepted his first head-coaching job with the Chicago Bulls. Luckily, he didn't have to go very far to study the game. It was all around him.

"When you're at home at night, sitting around the dinner table you're talking about the game," Chris said. "After dinner you're watching the games on TV. And you aren't just watching it as a fan. As a kid you get to hear the insights from someone who is an expert of the game. So you learn about so many different facets of the game and how it should be played - matchups and substitutions and why people are doing what they are doing."

But Doug was cautious to keep himself at an arm's length from Chris' budding basketball career.

"I did not coach Chris," Doug said. "It was enough pressure on Chris anyway, with me being his dad: first pick in the draft, college, Olympics, NBA. I did not want there to be any tension between he and I that basketball could have created. I wanted it to be a joy and I wanted Chris to want me around. I didn't want him to think that I was constantly critiquing him. I think it's a mistake that a lot of fathers make."

For Chris, growing up in his father's shadow pushed him to become more than Doug Collins' son.

"I tried to use that as motivation. Certainly that is there, and for me my whole life when I played, it was a big goal of mine to try and work hard and create my own identity," Chris said. "I kind of used his success as a motivator, to one day be able to stand on my own merits."

Transitioning from the tutelage of one accomplished coach to another, Chris enjoyed a successful 4-year playing career with Krzyzewski at Duke. After a brief stint overseas in the late-1990s, Chris followed his father into coaching. He served as an assistant for the WNBA's Detroit Shock for a season and assisted at Seton Hall for two years before returning to Duke in 2000.

"You grow up and people always ask, 'Did you always want to be a coach?' And no, I wanted to be a player," Chris said. "Growing up, you had dreams of being a really good college player and maybe having the chance to go to the NBA. But really, not until my playing career had finished did I really transition into wanting to be a coach. It has been a tremendous blessing from me, and having someone who is one of the smartest basketball people in the world in my dad as someone to lean on has been such an incredible resource."

Chris has remained in Durham, N.C., ever since, and the No. 4 Blue Devils are currently the one of the top teams in college basketball. His relationship with his dad has continued to flourish, thanks to their shared profession. The pair talk daily, and most of the conversations surround basketball.

Whether as father and son or as colleagues, some things never change.

"Maybe there's something he might see in what we're doing at Duke and he's always asking me if there are things I think he might be able to do better with his team," Chris said. "As I've gotten older, we've been able to lean on each other for advice in coaching and that is something that has been very special to our relationship."

Both Doug and Chris can now share their Olympic experiences with one another as well. Doug played for the 1972 Olympic team that lost to the Soviet Union in the gold-medal game in one of the most controversial contests in history. Since then, he has served as a part of the broadcast team for the past two Olympic Games, when Chris has been on the sidelines as a part of Krzyzewski's coaching staff for teams that took gold in Beijing and London.

Doug addressed the team in Las Vegas shortly before they departed for Beijing in 2008, sharing his own Olympic experiences in what both the elder and younger Collins said was an emotional moment for the entire squad.

Krzyzewski has announced that he will not return to coach the team at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, leaving Doug Collins on the short list of coaches rumored to lead Team USA, along with the San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich and the Boston Celtics' Doc Rivers.

"I would love for him to be considered as the next coach. It would mean a lot to him to be a part of the USA staff. As a former Olympian, he knows what it means to represent your country," Chris said. "I think that's a part of what made Coach K so successful is how much it meant to him to represent the United States as the national coach. I know I'm biased, but to me he's as good a coach as there is in the game today."

Despite their undeniable bond, both Chris and Doug said they are content not coaching together at this point in their careers. It was a possibility the pair has visited twice, when Doug was hired as head coach of the Washington Wizards in 2001 and when he took the 76ers job in 2010, but Chris declined his father's job offers both times.

"I get asked about it all the time. One of the reasons why I wanted to coach in college initially was to create my own legacy and my own identity," Chris said. "And I think that dad having his thing in the NBA and me being a part of the program here at Duke as a coach and a player, it has allowed us to have our own identities at two different levels. You never rule it out, because obviously it would be a great thrill at some point to work together in some capacity. But as of right now, it has been a great dynamic for us to just be each other's biggest fans and support each other the way that we have."

Doug Collins is often regarded as one of the top coaches in the NBA, but he will tell you that he is not even the best coach in his own family. He contends that the title belongs to his son, Chris.

Chris doesn't consider himself the best coach in the Collins family, either. Like father, like son.

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