Selective offers crucial to Collins strategy

Explaining some elements of the Chris Collins recruiting strategy, namely the very few offers he's extended to 2014 prospects.

Weeks ago, I found myself questioning Chris Collins for the first time. The new head coach had established rapport with several recruits, making Northwestern seem more desirable than ever before. Still, the low number of offers–as low as six–seemed ridiculous for a program that lacks any form of tradition.

Collins, in essence, tried to create leverage that was once nonexistent. Schools obviously differ in terms of recruiting strategy. Some throw out dozens of offers to borderline prospects, focusing on a few, while others like Louisville maintain tight focus and find the right players.

He steadfastly refuses to settle for any offers—which would have been somewhat acceptable in his first year. The first ones went to high-level prospects including Trevon Bluiett, Josh Cunningham and Tyler Ulis. Because, really, missing on sure things is much less damaging than landing questionable targets.

I've talked to nearly all of the players who hold offers, and they use an identical message: That means something. Cunningham, the four-star small forward, talked to me about the value of Collins and company evaluating his game. They never rushed to an offer, but instead felt it valuable to truly appreciate his game.

So far, the tough approach from Collins has paid off. I wondered whether his lofty aspirations would result in no commits and a disastrous first class. Then, he closed on Vic Law with the help of his entire staff, and the group immediately gained clarity. He could identify needs–point guard and power forward–and then give attention to the ideal guys. It's been impressive to follow.

I'm often criticized as a "marketing arm," but that seems validated by the early returns. Collins has done excellent work, and I can't force criticism any longer. I do think that he should be more aggressive in pursuing 2015 prospects like shooting guard Aaron Jordan, but that's relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

When Bryant McIntosh picked up an NU offer this past weekend, he could quickly understand its importance. They pitched to him their selective approach. Any sort of excitement comes off as slightly insincere when the team's extended 30 offers. Instead, Armon Gates called shortly after NU extended the offer and explained his enthusiasm. This, in such an easy and simple manner, has become a coveted offer.

It comes down to this: Collins acts the part. He believes in himself. He believes in the team. He believes it's self evident that NU can turn the corner with his staff and his leadership. It's an approach that has translated to success in his first few months.

Most importantly, I can guarantee that Collins will round out his first class only with players he views as integral to the team's future. We've extensively debated the topic: "Will they sign four players?" Maybe, and I'm not sure it at all matters. Are we really suggesting that Collins force offers to fill quota? That's absurd.

Players like feeling important. NU basketball fans want to feel as though the team is, well, important. Collins has nailed the nuances of recruiting, and the early returns are leaving people optimistic. As they should.


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