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20 Questions With Chris Collins & Wojo

Chris Collins and Wojo have been kind enough to take questions from various sites, and now it's DBR's turn!  We really appreciate their time and willingness to take a few questions. So here you are!

1. When you evaluate high school players, aside from the obvious requirement of talent, what do you look for? 

In addition to a recruit’s overall talent (to play well at Duke) as you mention, we look at two equally important areas: desire (to be educated at Duke and receive a degree) and character (to want to represent Duke University, our program, our community, family and friends with pride and respect).  We try our best during the recruiting process to learn about the young men in each of these three areas, and our overall mission in recruiting is to find the best student-athletes for our school and our program.

2. For those of us who watch from the stands, it's hard to understand everything that's happening on the floor.  Obviously you have more insights.  What areas will you focus on for improvements next season?

We feel that with a year under the belt of most our guys, we will produce greater results in many areas.  There is no better teacher than experience.  If there is one word we are focused on in preparing for next year, it is “competition.”  We feel the best teams have competition for minutes at every position, and the best thing for a coach is to have competition every day in practice.  Heading into next season, we feel that no positions are set in stone and we anticipate great competition amongst the guys on our team.  We would like each of our returning and incoming players to come into next season with the goal of competing to become a starter.  If that is the case, our guys will push one another to maximize our potential as a team.    

3. Chris, we're guessing that you've built a pretty substantial oral history of basketball since you've spent time around your dad, the Bulls (we understand you were a ball boy), and Coach K. What are three favorite stories that you would be willing to share?

My most vivid ball-boy memory from when my Dad coached the Bulls was having the opportunity to watch practices.  I never forgot watching how hard Michael Jordan worked on each and every aspect of his game.  He tried to win every drill, every sprint and every scrimmage with the same intensity and hunger that he possessed in the games.  As a kid who wanted to become a successful player one day, that left a lasting impression on me.   I was fortunate to realize at a young age that it wasn’t just the talent that made the great players who they were. 

Another memory I have is of the Philadelphia 76ers locker room when my Dad played for the Sixers during the 70’s.  I remember running around the locker room and family room with all the other children of the Sixers players.  Looking back now, it was an amazing group of kids.  Joining me were current NBA player Mike Bibby (whose father Henry was the point guard), former Duke player, NBA lottery pick and current NBA player Mike Dunleavy Jr. (whose dad was also on that team), and WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings  (whose father Harvey was a forward on that team).  Finally, there was also a little kid named Kobe hanging out with us, whose father Joe Bryant played on that squad.  I think most of you guys probably recognize that name.  It is amazing how successful all of those young people became in basketball on many different levels. 

A third story that I never forget occurred when I was a freshman in high school.  I remember riding my bike home from summer basketball camp held at my high school.  When I started to approach my house, I saw news trucks from every station and all kinds of media set up in my yard.  As I pedaled up to the driveway, a hoard of media people rushed up and informed me that my Dad had been fired as coach of the Bulls.  They immediately wanted to get my reaction to the news.  I ran into my house to see my family members, who were pretty much bunkered up inside.  It was a very upsetting day for me as a young kid, and the incident taught me a great lesson about the human aspect of being in the sports limelight.  People often forget that the players and coaches, often scrutinized by fans and the media, are human beings as well and have families. 

4. Of all the Duke players you have either played with or coached, name five you'd want to be nearby if you were walking down a dark and dangerous alley, and why.

We would choose Shelden Williams, Carlos Boozer, Nate James, Elton Brand and Matt Christensen.  You would have to be pretty brave to question the strength and toughness of any of these guys.  We would feel very good about our chances in a dark alley with this group!

 5. Cameron aside, what is your favorite arena in the ACC, and why?

Our favorite arena on any given day is any opponent’s arena where we earn a hard-fought road win.  If we had to name one, we would choose Virginia’s new John Paul Jones Arena.  Virginia did a great job building a state-of-the-art arena while maintaining a college feel that remains true to the overall architecture featured on the Virginia campus.  The venue is a terrific addition to ACC Basketball.  Our conference has some very unique and impressive arenas with their own character and history, and we really enjoy the passion and spirit expressed in all of them.

 6. In the current parlor game, how do you think Florida of the last two years would have matched up with Duke from '91-'92?

It is impossible to compare teams from today’s age to those from the past.  The landscape of college basketball has changed so much in the past 15 years.  You have to give Florida unbelievable credit for what they were able to accomplish.  They certainly had a very talented and united team that proved to be the best over the past two years.   The common thread between both the Duke and Florida teams was the ability to keep the same group together for two championship runs.  Overall, we would like the chances of those two Duke teams matched up against any other championship team.  The trio of Laettner, Hurley and Hill accounted for eight All-America selections, a National Player of the Year award, a National Defensive Player of the Year award and 10 Final Fours.  Those guys had a knack for making winning plays at the biggest moments and were surrounded by a great group of teammates as well. 

 7. What adjustments has Duke made to its recruiting philosophy given that most elite players now leave early?

Recruiting is an inexact science.  In most every case, it is very difficult to determine with certainty how long a young man will stay on campus, and each prospect’s recruiting process is different.  Our mission is to find the best kids for our school and our program, and we have always been willing to look at any high school basketball player with exceptional talent, desire and character, regardless of his projected potential to leave early for the NBA.  With the influx of elite players leaving early, we have to work harder than ever to identify Duke-caliber student-athletes excited by the unique opportunities and character-building challenges that Duke University and Duke Basketball afford. 

 8. We appreciate you guys talking to us at this time of year.  We know how busy you are with recruiting and everything.  It's a world that coaches and gurus (so-called) understand intimately, but the rest of us maybe not so well. Can you tell us a few things about the recruiting life that would really surprise the average person?

Obviously, recruiting is a very important part of building and maintaining a great program.  The recruiting process is continually on-going, and we always try our best to identify Duke-caliber young men, and then cultivate a great relationship with the prospects and their families.  This process requires significant time and energy, and involves a lot of travel.  You learn to pack lightly, go Hertz Gold and understand that MapQuest doesn’t always produce accurate results.  One of the best parts about recruiting all over the country is getting a chance to see so many different areas and meeting the people who reside in those great places.

 9. Surprise - the ACC has set up a 13th team for next season, and invited you to coach.  Better still, you can pick your starting five from any ACC schools but Duke. Who do you take, and why?

Although this is an interesting and thoughtful question, we would rather not offer specific names.  We don’t want to contribute possible bulletin board material for other ACC teams!

 10. In your time in college basketball, how has women's basketball changed?

The popularity and television/media coverage of the women’s game seem to be at an all-time high.  We believe this is a direct result of the outstanding play and coaching throughout the game of women’s basketball.  We are so proud of the young women who represent us here at Duke.  They do an amazing job, work incredibly hard and have been a source of pride for our entire school community.  We believe the same would be said at college campuses all over the nation. 

 11. On the whole, do you find the AAU system to be a positive or a negative when it comes to recruiting?

Overall, the AAU system is a positive.  The majority of AAU coaches have the best interest of the kids at heart, and want to provide them the opportunity to play the game of basketball, compete against young people from all over the country, and potentially earn themselves a college scholarship.  Many student-athletes across the country have benefited from being a part of AAU programs.  Unfortunately, much of what you hear about the AAU system is a case of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch.  Just like in most any group or organization in our society, there are going to be a few people who don’t follow rules, don’t work within the mission, and bring negative attention to the entire group.  Without question, the overwhelming majority of people we have dealt with in AAU basketball have been good people with good values who care about kids. 

 12. What is your most memorable college game as a player?

Wojo: If I had to pick a game that sticks out in my mind the most, it would be my Senior Night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, when we came back from 17 down against an unbelievably talented UNC team to win the ACC regular season.

Collins: For me as a player, two games stick out more than any others.  First, having the opportunity to play in a national championship game in 1994 versus Arkansas was a dream come true for me.  I remember standing at the jump-ball circle before tip-off, looking around the arena and realizing that I was getting ready to play in a game that I had dreamed of and played in my backyard thousands of times as a kid.  That is a memory I will never forget.  However, my most memorable experience as a player came during a time of transition.  In my senior year in 1996, coming off of our disappointing 1995 season with Coach being sick, we were getting ready to play at NC State with us sitting at 0-4 in ACC play.  I hit a 3 that bounced around the rim about six times before it dropped to win the game.  We went on to win eight of our last 12 games in the conference and advanced back into the NCAA Tournament.  To be a part of that team that pushed us back on track was special to me.

 13. College basketball has changed a lot in the last few years. Where do you guys see things going from here, and how will you adapt?

If history is any indicator, the landscape of college basketball will continue to change.  We have to continue to adapt to the changes in our game without compromising the values of the Duke Basketball program and the foundation on which Coach K has built our program.  Coach K’s ability to anticipate, adapt  and make  necessary adjustments in each decade he has coached has enabled him to keep Duke a premier basketball program in the country.  In the future, we think there will be continued discussion about how to best handle early-entry NBA Draft candidates.  Additionally, programs will have to monitor the changing APR guidelines set forth from the NCAA, which now can result in losses of scholarships.  Overall, something that hasn’t and hopefully will never change about college basketball is the passion and pride of the fans of each school.  Over the years, no matter who steps out on the floor, the excitement and energy in college basketball venues have never wavered.  

 

14. For a lot of Duke fans, Shane Battier was the ultimate.  Can you share a Shane story, that maybe people haven't heard, which could help to explain why he is such a singular personality?

Collins: For me, the thing that stood out about Shane is how much he spoiled you as a coach.  My best memory is of Shane telling the coaches every day to step aside so he could address the team in the huddle before every practice.  He always set the tone for spirited and competitive practices, which in turn produced championship-level results.  No one deserved winning a championship more than Shane due to his phenomenal leadership and commitment. 

Wojo: I agree with many Duke fans in that I believe Shane Battier was the ultimate college student-athlete.  I was fortunate to be Shane’s teammate and coach.  To witness up close Shane’s development from a freshman who wanted to do so well that at times it caused him to become physically ill, to a senior who practically did everything right every day will always serve as an amazing example throughout my coaching career.  His development started with his desire to be great, a conscious plan on how to become excellent in everything he pursued, daily effort, and enthusiasm.  It is a model of success that you would hope all of the young men you coach would follow. 

15. What was it like for each of you to be recruited by Coach K?

Collins: Growing up, I was always a big Duke fan.  Duke was always a “dream school” to me as I loved watching the way Duke teams played and how together they were on the court.  At first I was a little bit in awe when Coach K started recruiting me.  After getting to know Coach K and his staff and then seeing how honest they were, I  felt an immediate connection and bond.  I also remember taking my recruiting trip and not speaking a word for the first hour as I sat at the lunch table with Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner because of the amazing respect I had for what they had accomplished as players.  Once I got to know those guys as well as the other players on the team, I just fit in so well and knew that Duke was the place for me.  Since then, my relationship with Coach K has grown even stronger.  He is definitely a great mentor for me in all facets of my life and a great friend.

Wojo: Being recruited by Duke and Coach K was a dream come true.  Growing up in ACC country from a very early age, I became a fan of Coach K and his players.  I admired how hard his guys played, how well they played together, and what they represented.  To be contacted by the Duke staff and Coach K as a high school student was one of the neatest things that had ever happened to me.  When I got over the initial shock, I could not think of anyone that I would rather play for than Coach K.  Over a decade later, I can say that it is one of the greatest decisions I have ever made.  As highly as I thought of Coach K and Duke as a high school student, the reality of my experience has surpassed my wildest dreams. 

16. What effect do you think expansion has had on ACC basketball, good or bad?

From an old-school perspective, you miss having the traditional round-robin format that was long a staple of the conference’s regular season.  Not having the chance to play every team both home and away diminishes the opportunity to determine a true conference champion in the regular season, and also prevents teams from getting to play in every great venue in our league each year.  However, adding Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College has brought positives to the league as well.  These schools have expanded our conference throughout almost the entire east coast and have provided the ACC even more exposure than in the past.  

 17. As experienced recruiters yourselves, how do you think Jeff Capel's recruiting at Oklahoma has gone so far?

Both of us were teammates of Jeff’s at Duke, and he is a close friend.  We have no doubt that he will build the Oklahoma program in a short period of time.  Jeff not only knows the game of basketball, but he also is an incredible people-person and will be an outstanding recruiter.  He has already landed a McDonald’s All-American in Blake Griffin, who will be a great piece for him to build around.  Oklahoma fans should know that their program is in great hands with Jeff. 

 18. A question for each of you: if you weren't in basketball, what do you think you'd be doing?

Collins: It is hard for me to imagine not being affiliated with the game in some way.  Growing up with a father who played and coached in the NBA, basketball has been a huge part of my life and my biggest passion.  I never really imagined myself doing anything else.  I feel very fortunate that I can devote my career to doing something that I love.  I never view coaching as a job because there is nothing more fun and beneficial than being at Duke and having the opportunity to work alongside such a great staff and mentor a terrific group of young men.  If I had to choose something outside of basketball, I would have wanted to do something with kids.  I love their energy and the feeling you get when you make a difference in their lives. 

Wojo: Like Chris, it is hard to imagine a life without basketball.  If I weren’t able to coach, I believe I would be a teacher.  Teaching involves making a difference in the lives of impressionable young people.  To me, there isn’t anything better than helping someone learn and grow.

19. Who do you think will be the biggest surprise in basketball next season?

We believe the annual surprises in college basketball help make it the greatest sport on Earth.  From the great improvements made by a player to an amazing team effort that captures the attention of the nation, college basketball is characterized by exciting and unpredictable developments every year.  We hope the biggest surprise  next year will be a Duke national championship run next April.

 20. We periodically get e-mail from kids who want to play for Duke.  What advice would you give them?

First and foremost, the kids need to work hard academically to put themselves in a position to meet the academic requirements of this university and the standards of our program.  A student-athlete’s effort in the classroom can carry over to all aspects of his life, and we look for high school students who take pride in all that they do.  Secondly, we would encourage the kids to put themselves in a position where they can showcase their athletic talents and prove themselves as a valuable asset to our basketball program, not only with talent but also with character.  We always look for players who are great teammates, respond well to coaching, provide leadership to their teams, give maximum effort, value winning over individual statistics, and respect their peers, teachers, coaches and the game of basketball.