He quickly mentioned recruiting as the "lifeblood" of any major college basketball program. And, of course, that was among the primary complaints from Bill Carmody's last days. Despite his best efforts, NU seldom competed for elite prospects.
Collins needed to establish his reputation and his pitch. Already behind in some 2014 recruiting battles–given the difficulty of any transition–he faced an abbreviated timeframe to achieve immediate success.
He landed Vic Law. We smiled, briefly. It takes more than one piece. We know that.
Collins proceeded to flash his recruiting savvy, so advanced for a first-time head coach. He snagged "stretch-four" sleeper Gavin Skelly to shore up his frontcourt depth. But what happened next was even more impressive.
He really started outdueling other coaches.
Though Painter eventually landed three-star talent Vince Edwards, he fell behind in the McIntosh sweepstakes and never recovered. Collins and Armon Gates built excellent relationships with the point guard of their future; it marked a major recruiting victory for NU.
Collins then stared down other high-major programs in pursuit of Fenwick (Ill.) shooting guard Scott Lindsey. Fran McCaffery and Iowa gave Lindsey his first high-major offer, leading the NU coach to work quickly.
Deciding that he wanted more perimeter threats, Collins offered Lindsey on Aug. 27. There was the perfect in-state appeal, the need, the correct fit. It left Iowa and Vanderbilt hanging. The Cats are no longer after "sleepers" or convenient local guards. Collins and his staff spent all of July evaluating the perfect fits. This year, they're actually getting them.
Lindsey may or may not be another game-changing player for NU. At the very least, we know he'll compete for minutes given his three-point shot and maturity. But things change, and as the NU profile rises, so will its recruiting tendencies.
For now, we're growing to expect more incredible recruiting efforts. Collins absorbed his share of losses (Tyler Ulis, maybe) but rebounded with these wins.
One class–no matter how good–can only have so much effect on a program. Law, Skelly, McIntosh and Lindsey will have their four-year tenure and almost certainly lift NU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance—probably by their sophomore year.
Collins, though, should be here past the moment they graduate. In the coming seasons, he'll attempt to make NU the ideal destination for local stars. He'll set the bar even higher, building from the current framework.
It's just one class. Four now, five or six when it's complete. If this season provides any indication, Chris Collins will soon be competing for the best recruits around. With confidence and optimism nearing all-time highs in regards to this program, he's also got another selling point.
Yesterday, Collins and NU beat out Iowa and Vanderbilt. The week before, McIntosh spurned more than a dozen offers to choose the Wildcats.
We can try to get used to this, sure, but Chris Collins is just beginning.