The Kindred Spirits

Purple Wildcats staff writer Sylvan Lane notes some similarities between members of the new look Northwestern coaching staff.

Just a few weeks after his official welcoming to Northwestern, Chris Collins has assembled his coaching staff for his first season. While the three men–Tavaras Hardy, Brian James and Pat Baldwin– are by no means carbon copies of each other, there's one major thing they have in common: Each is a lot like Chris Collins.

Collins came to NU after 13 years as an assistant as Duke, was born and raised in a Chicago suburb, and never had a head coaching job at the collegiate level. Lauded for his knack for recruiting and his combination of youth and experience, he was the no-brainer front-runner for the job once Bill Carmody was fired. Now that Collins is in charge, he's surrounding himself with coaches that share these key components of his background.

Take Tavaras Hardy, for example. Hardy served as Carmody's associate head coach (the same position Collins filled at Duke) and has been on the Wildcat coaching staff since 2006. A 2002 NU graduate and Joliet, Ill. native, Hardy has earned a reputation as an excellent recruiter. Although Hardy served in an elevated role at a young age, he's never stood alone in the spotlight. Even so, he was the first official piece of the new regime and a welcome, necessary carryover from the old.

Then there's Brian James, who comes to Evanston after coaching for Chris's father, Doug, with the Philadelphia 76ers. James has also served as an assistant with the Detroit Pistons (1995-98), the Toronto Raptors (1999-2001), and the Washington Wizards (2001-2003), and worked as both and advance scout and an ESPN analyst.

Before James joined the NBA coaching carousel, the Illinois State graduate coached high school basketball for 18 years. When he coached at Glenbrook North in the early 1990's, he oversaw the growth of Chris Collins.

While James has much more coaching experience than Hardy and Collins, he shares the same ability to recognize and attract talent and the ties to the Chicago area that make some Wildcat fans salivate.

Finally, there is Pat Baldwin, a 1994 Northwestern graduate who coached at Lincoln University and Wisconsin-Green Bay before making a name himself at Loyola Chicago as, you guessed it, an excellent recruiter. Baldwin just completed his second season as an assistant at Missouri State and was officially announced as Collins' first hire from outside the university last Friday.

Hardy, James, and Baldwin are all excellent recruiters with ties to the Chicago area, solid resumes, and limited experience at the top of a coaching staff, but what impact will this have on Northwestern?

First and foremost, this will neither create a Northwestern monopoly on Chicago area talent, nor will it constrict the focus of the staff to the area around the university. Talent in basketball is widely spread out throughout the country, and the best basketball recruits in the Windy City and suburbs need and deserve a stronger pitch than area familiarity. However, it will give the staff more credibility in the area and help open the ears of recruits who might have formerly ignored the call of the Wildcats.

More importantly, this drives home Collins' overall emphasis on recruiting, something that Carmody never quite mastered in Evanston. With a lack of a concrete system, a team of highly touted recruiters, and the leadership of an electric young coach riding a wave of optimism, the new face of Northwestern is making himself present in the stands of high school games and AAU tournaments rather than in a playbook—for better or worse.

Hardy, James, and Baldwin all bring unique experiences to the Northwestern staff—experiences upon which Collins will aim to build a successful program. However, it's what these coaches have in common that could prove to be most important.

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