Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Just One Teeny Degree of Separation

Here's another up close and personal brush I had with someone you may or may not know. The good news -- no lives were lost.

Recently, there was an article in the New York Times about Northwestern University's new head basketball coach, Chris Collins. I graduated from NU. So I was interested. You can read the article HERE: Then come back and read my blatherings below.

I received the NYT link from a fellow Duke alum [I spent my first two college years as a Devil with a Blue Dress].

The article fills in some of the back story on the new coach. "Chris Collins grew up in the Chicago area while his father was coaching the Bulls. After spending 13 years as an assistant at Duke, Collins is now tasked with leading a program that has never reached the N.C.A.A. tournament."

Here's the big reveal: I knew Chris Collins. He was a year behind my younger daughter in high school. She was captain of the girls' team. And an all-conference soccer goalie. The next year, he became captain of the boys' basketball team. Both got best athlete awards at their respective senior awards assemblies.

I photographed both of their high school varsity basketball seasons at Glenbrook North High School in Illinois -- John Hughes alma mater by the way. I never knew him; I only saw him once at the grocery store.

I was taking pictures of my daughter's team because she was my daughter, duh. Just before before her senior year, they'd won the summer league quite handily, which usually meant good things for the upcoming season, especially since they ran the table -- beating everyone in their division. The only problem was that the summer coach would not be their coach for the season. What a travesty that turned out to be. Players actually quit in frustration because she was so lame. I think the team finished under .500.

Before everything went south, I had decided to take pictures, mainly because shooting pix guaranteed me a great seat for the game, smack dab under the home team basket. That also meant I wouldn't have to sit next to any of the other moms, who tended to talk about shopping, what's for dinner, the usual mom blah blah blah.

Serendipitously, during a parents' night at the school, just before the regular season started, I discovered something else -- the boys looked like they also had a good team. The first thing I noticed? They were really fast.

More interesting -- in a 99% white - 1% Asian school, the team had somehow recruited two black players, so they had to be good, right? One was the nephew of B.J. Armstrong, a popular Chicago Bulls player who lived in Northbrook. The story I heard was that his nephew had transferred to GBN because he had been sitting on the bench at his Chicago high school and wouldn't be getting much playing time. So he moved in with his uncle and became an immediate starter at GBN with Chris Collins.

There was also a seven-foot kid no one could defend. He ended up at Pepperdine. His first name was Jay -- and the crowd always chanted GO JA-AY! GO JA-AY! whenever he entered the game, left the game, scored a point, blocked a point, sat down, stood up. Pretty much anything. Despite their potential, Chris' teams didn't make it downstate when he was at GBN, losing some heartbreakers, but the strong program that developed got a major kickstart, thanks in part to Doug Collins' friendship with the coach, Brian James. 

Interesting to note that the boys' coach, Brian James, left GBN to join Doug as an assistant. Now, all these years later, he's been recruited to work with Chris at NU.

At the end of the season, I was at a party Chris' parents threw when he signed his Duke letter of intent. Dennis Rodman was supposed to be there, but didn't make it. He sent a uniform instead. Believe it or not, Rodman was Chris Collins' favorite player, not Jordan.

Before going to Duke, John Scheyer was, like Chris, captain of his Glenbrook North basketball team. Before leading his Duke team to the NCAA Championship as a college senior, Scheyer had led his GBN team to the Illinois State Championship as a high school senior.

Interesting to note, Scheyer's high school coach was David Weber, brother of former U of Illinois coach, Bruce Weber [now at Kansas State]. Bruce's Illini team made it to the finals of the NCAA tournament that same school year -- 2004-2005. Also that same year, a third Weber brother, Ron, coaching at Waupaca high school in Wisconsin, got this close to his state championship, too, but not enough to win. The good news, in 2011 Ron was inducted into the Wisconsin High School Basketball Hall of Fame, after 30 years of coaching.  Wonder what the three Weber brothers talk about at family gatherings? Probably the Packers.

I'm sure the GBN connection helped Chris recruit John Scheyer to Duke. On the other hand, I've read that Scheyer had planned on Duke from the age of two.

I think it's worth noting that Scheyer's GBN team may have been the first and only Illinois State Championship Team that started five Jewish players. That's a great stat.

The article talks about Chris' father coming to every NU game. He came to every high school game Chris played in, too. I know, since I was also there. Moments before they lost a playoff nail-biter at McGaw Hall [NU's basketball stadium, where they also play big high school games], I looked up to where Doug Collins was sitting and saw he had a towel over his head. He couldn't bear to watch the last minute. That was a very tough loss for him. All of us, in fact.

Now, after his apprenticeship at Duke, Chris has his father and his high school coach to help him at NU. He'll need them.

So far, he does a good interview. Not the doofus high school kid I was expecting. Haaa. He's knocked off a couple of ranked teams. Won a tough double overtime. Lost when he shouldn't have. And got creamed by Michigan State. But he's hanging in around .500. For now, he gets the benefit of the doubt.

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