The case for Brian James

Suggesting one possible addition to the Chris Collins staff at Northwestern.

On Feb. 16, 1991, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune documented one rising local basketball star named Chris Collins. Then a junior at Glenbrook North HS, Collins had this preternatural ability to make clutch shots.

"I want the ball in pressure situations," Collins told Sullivan after his 10-footer clinched the league title. "I'm not afraid of being the goat."

His coach went even further. Brian James – now an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers under Doug Collins – raved about Chris like few other school high school coaches would.

James trusted the teenage Collins to carry his young team: "I told them, ‘Get the ball to Chris and get the hell out of the way.'" And after so many years of being the second voice in the huddle, Collins finally has an opportunity to take control once again. Perhaps this could also lead to one special reunion.


There are several reasons why Chris Collins should add Brian James to his Northwestern coaching staff. They go beyond the bursts of nostalgia captured in this 1991 article. He'll get to work when Duke ends its tournament run — and he might reserve one of those first calls for Brian James.

Heck, his dad almost immediately took notice of the coaching talent. James followed closely in his footsteps at Illinois State — the current home of Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena. When Doug was hired by the Detroit Pistons, it seemed due time for James to leave the high school ranks, which he occupied for 18 seasons at Glenbrook North.

James worked with Doug Collins in Detroit for the greater part of three years. When Doug was fired, he caught on with Butch Davis (and later Lenny Wilkens) and oversaw some of the finest seasons in Raptors franchise history. But Collins always trusted the man who let his son loose in crunch time.

After a brief stint as broadcaster, Collins returned to coaching in Washington in 2001, where he rehired James. The pair was dismissed after two mediocre seasons. Then, after James spent time with the Milwaukee Bucks, the two united again in Philadelphia.

Collins and James: They're inseparable on the sidelines. This father, son and coach relationship essentially mirrors the "family" element of Northwestern athletics.

Though it remains to be seen how long Collins will last in Philadelphia, it appears sensible – and reasonable – for Chris to pursue his former high school coach as an assistant. It is an ideal opportunity.


When prospects meet Brian James, they would see someone with professional experience. When Brian James meets prospects, he would be expert at evaluating them.

He recently worked as an advanced scout, and while there are obvious differences in talent, James understands the game better than most coaches.

Despite being away from the Illinois high school game for several years, he could re-familiarize himself with the system.

In past seasons, Northwestern has found much of its talent from the suburbs. The best player in school history, John Shurna, hails from Glen Ellyn. There is no doubt that James cultivated respect in these areas — with his impressive 196-79 overall record at Glenbrook North – and could specialize in recruiting the region.

From an experience standpoint, Collins needs to consider James as a viable assistant option. He coached Michael Jordan at the end of his career. And personality-wise, he seems like an excellent fit. In this strong 2008 Q&A with Hoopsworld, he basically spoke to the NU mindset.

Asked about his fondest memories, he answered: "My last six years at Glenbrook North High School. Just building a team that hadn't won a conference championship in 12 seasons and then to develop a winning program there, including going to the state tournament three times, and teaching kids how much fun it is to win…"

Of course, Chris Collins was one of those students. With his NBA coaching career seemingly plateaued, James can return to his Illinois roots and work with the former player he loves. How's that for a nice story?


Tavaras Hardy and Fred Hill are both strong coaches. That being said, Collins needs to personalize his staff. He enters to high expectations, and has the opportunity to build this program beneath his ultimate vision.

He might retain one of Carmody's top assistants (keeping both seems doubtful) but is likely to look for outside assistant help.

Watch this one minute and 40 second clip of Brian James. The man exudes this unmatched understanding of the Collins family dynamic, even delving into the personality of Chris and stressing his attention to detail.

Unlike the Sun-Times suggestion that Doug could join Chris in Evanston, it makes sense to avoid competing egos on the sidelines. Chris Collins needs to hire someone close to him, but not too close. Brian James has the chance to return home late in his career, and build up another program.

It's mutually beneficial.

It's boldly idealistic.

It would also suit the message Chris Collins brings to Evanston. This is his team designed in his image — and Brian James would mark one step towards accomplishing that goal.

James would know when to work, and, you know, when to get the hell out of the way.

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