One on one with Chris Collins part I

Blue Devil Associate Head Coach Chris Collins sits down with TDD in part one of a three part interview. In this first section Collins discusses the 2011-2012 season, the disappointing ending, and what the program learned after falling in the NCAA Tournament's second round.

Obviously the season didn't end as everyone would have hoped.  It almost seemed like the team almost ran out of steam after the big win at Florida State.

Chris Collins: There is no doubt that we were all disappointed by the way the season ended.  Going into each year, you always want to be at your best when it matters most in the postseason, and for us, it didn't happen that way.

What were the factors you saw that contributed to the late and post season issues?

I think that there were a couple of main factors that contributed to us not finishing the season strong. First, the loss of Ryan Kelly was a big blow to our team.  We had a great frontcourt rotation of Ryan, Mason and Miles throughout the season and losing him really hurt.  

Ryan is such a stabilizer for us when he's out on the court.  He spaces the floor with his shooting, he's a good passer and ball-handler for his size, and he was always the guy who helped us close games with his decision-making and ability to hit free throws in the clutch.  He always gave Mason and Miles more room to operate inside and gave Austin and Seth more spacing to make plays from the perimeter because other teams had to respect his outside shooting.  

Anything else?

I also think that by the end of the season, our team was a little worn out, physically and mentally.  It was the most grueling early season schedule we had ever played, starting with the trip to China and Dubai, playing three tough games in Maui, and also tough games against Ohio State, Michigan State, Belmont, Davidson and Temple. I think having the summer trip really enabled us to get off to a great start in November and December, but may have affected us late in the season.  

Overall, when you look back at what we accomplished, with 27 wins, winning the Maui Classic, the quality of teams that we were able to beat, going undefeated on the road in the ACC, there were many more positives than negatives.  It just hurts to lose early in the NCAA tourney and not finish the way we would have liked.  

What did the team learn or take away from that experience?

Hopefully, it will serve as motivation for all of us returning, coaches and players, to be even better next season.  All of our guys have been working hard this summer and are looking forward to getting back out there.

Speaking of next year, and considering the standards which seem to follow the team every year, do you ever find the players or coaches talking about expectations?

I think that when each of our players come into Duke, one of the things we try to impress on them early on is that they are here to create their own legacy as individuals and with their teammates. They don't need to feel the pressure of having to live up to players and teams of Duke's past.  The legacy and tradition of the Duke program is amazing, and we all feel honored to be a part of it, and to have the opportunity to play for Coach K and in Cameron Indoor Stadium is the best. But, for us, it's all about what each of these current guys can add to help the team, in our new journey to become champions.  

What about the coaches?

Our expectation each year as a staff is to try to put a team together that will have a chance to compete for a National Championship.  That never changes.  But you can never just fast forward to the Final Four.  You can't skip steps along the way.  Each team has to go through ups and downs and figure out how to come together to make that happen.  For instance, there is no way that we win a National Title in 2010, if that group of guys doesn't go through the experience of losing to VCU in the first round as freshmen, remember what that hurt was like, and not want to experience that again.  It's always a growth process with each group we have, and why we are excited to get started again in the Fall.

For the second straight season Duke lost a player after just a year in Durham. Both Austin Rivers and Kyrie Irving came in and started from day one. How much of a balancing act is there in terms of chemistry, team and individual development, etc when you have a one and done talent on the roster?

Roster turnover in College Basketball is at an all-time high. More players are leaving programs, whether it be entering the draft or transferring, than ever before.  That is why you have to take advantage of each season as it comes.  It used to be that you knew that you would have a group of guys together for a while and you could add a piece here and there, based upon what you lost.  Now, you really don't know from year to year who is going to be on your team.  So you have to maximize what you can do with your team while you have them together.  

From the moment a season begins, we don't talk at all about NBA stuff with any of our guys.  It's all about locking into what we are doing for the duration of the season and seeing how good we can become.  

Right, but when dealing with a guy who is a four year player and meshing him a guy who will be playing at the next level in a few months, there has to be a some kind meshing process, right?

There will always be different personalities and talent levels on every team. Coach K has been the best that I have ever seen in getting everyone, whether it be the staff, players, managers, all on the same page with the same goal of winning.  That's our challenge each year.  To put the parts together and hopefully create a team that comes together and makes each other better.  For the most part, our success has shown that it has worked pretty well.  Seeing players like Kyrie and Austin be able to come in, gain the respect of their teammates and coaches, go out and perform at a high level as freshmen, and then be able to become pros after one year is very rewarding to us.  It also shows about the kind of people they are.  It wouldn't work if they didn't truly care about Duke succeeding.  Both of those guys love Duke and will be a part of our program forever.

Even though you are focused on 2012-2013, when you look back on this past season what sticks out as favorite memories?

We had some great memories from this past season.  Starting the year off with the trip to China and Dubai was a great experience.  Beating Michigan State at Madison Square Garden in New York for Coach K to reach 903 wins was incredible.  To see all of the the former players at the game,  spanning so many eras of Duke basketball,  able to celebrate with us with something I will never forget.  

The run to the championship in Maui was a lot of fun.  Having to play Tennessee, Michigan and Kansas on three consecutive days was nuts.  That Kansas game was such a high level game. Small, hot gym packed with fans with players from both teams making huge plays throughout the game.  Those two threes Tyler hit were big time shots!  

Obviously, the win at UNC was one of the great moments of the season also.  Our guys just hung in there the whole game and a lot of guys made plays in the last few minutes leading up to Austin's buzzer beater.  

The comeback win at home over NC State was a great win for us also.  After being completely outplayed the first 30 minutes, our guys coming back from 20 down and finding a way to win showed a lot of heart.

Finally, the win at Florida State late in the year.  They had beaten us in a tough OT game at home with that Snaer buzzer beater, and our guys put together maybe our best 40 minutes of the year down in Tallahassee to win in a tough environment.

Check back for Part II tomorrow as Coach Collins talks about the changes being made for the upcoming season, the projected impact of the newcomers, and how the team will adjust to losing Rivers, Plumlee, and Gbinije

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