Collins encourages diversity at Illinois

Jimmy Collins once recruited Chicago for Lou Henson, but he said it was a team effort. AP Photo/Joe Koshollek

Former Illinois assistant and UIC head coach Jimmy Collins said Monday that Illinois would benefit in recruiting Chicago if it hired its first African-American men's basketball head coach.

Collins was an Illinois assistant to Lou Henson from 1983-1996. The Illini went 279-129 during that period and reached the Final Four in 1989. Collins was passed over for the Illinois head coaching position in 1996 and took over UIC's program that same year and retired from the Flames in 2010. He recruited Chicago throughout his career.

"I think it would be nice if it's a black American," Collins said. "I think it would be nice. I don't think it necessarily has to go that way. Illinois' tradition speaks for itself. It doesn't have to be a black American, but it would be nice if it was, and since the majority of the players in the Chicagoland area are black you got to have someone to relate to them.

"You got someone over there at Marquette in Buzz Williams who relates to people. You got Tom Izzo. You got coaches out there who see wins, not color. I think it would be extremely advantageous to bring in a black coach. I don't think it is the win all, kill all."

Collins believes either Illinois' next head coach or its assistant coaches have to have Chicago ties if they want to have recruiting success in the area.

"If your target is Chicago, you have to have someone familiar with the area," Collins said. "They need to fit in when they get in with Chicago's coaches. One thing about Chicago area, there are rivalries and all the Chicago coaches don't get along. Whoever they bring in, they have to meld everyone.

"You have to be sincere about those kids. A lot of the coaches don't get along, but they are all concerned with happens to the CPS [Chicago Public Schools] players when they go to college. Coaches may not like each other, but they love those kids."

Collins was in charge of recruiting mainly the Chicago area under Henson, but it was a team effort.

"I knew (Henson's) personality, what he wanted, what he liked to have," Collins said. "If I would come back and say to coach, 'Call these coaches and these are the points to emphasize,' he couldn't get in the phone in his hand fast enough. It was a team effort like a basketball team.

"You have to find somebody who is accepted by a majority of the Public League coaches. If that's the head coach, that head coach will have to spend a lot of time in the city. Coach Henson did that. You got to be visible. If the head coach isn't familiar with what goes on in Chicago, your assistants have to be."

Collins admitted Chicago wasn't always an easy place to recruit.

"Chicago is a tough place," Collins said. "It's a tough town, period. You got to get down and got to grind with the community. I know the personality of Chicago. You have to ferment it. Whoever comes in has to really come into Chicago and be accepted immediately. You can't take 2-3 years to be accepted. You have to help the local coaches, the local programs and maybe get in with some of the media people."

Collins wished Illinois the best in its hire. He was hopeful the Illini would return to being among the nation's top programs.

"I am a stepson of the Illini," Collins said. "I didn't go to school, but I was down there for 13 years, and I have a large and great deal of respect for the Illini nation, the university as a whole. The only thing I can add is I hope in their search they take the time to take some of the things I've said here into consideration and bring somebody in who can raise the Illini nation to the degree and point where it should be -- at the top of college basketball."