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Kragthorpe: Coaches Quin Snyder of Jazz, Chris Collins of Northwestern share special bond

First Published      Last Updated Mar 17 2017 07:13 pm

Chris Collins' shot came from deep on the court, so close to the sideline that Quin Snyder thought the senior guard would fall into him on the Duke bench after saving the Blue Devils' season.

That's the basketball moment Snyder always will remember about Collins, who's coaching Northwestern in an NCAA Tournament second-round game vs. Gonzaga at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz coach's relationship with the Collins family goes much deeper, creating ties that will stretch from the building where Snyder usually works to Chicago. That's the home of Northwestern and, coincidentally enough, the city where the Jazz are playing Saturday night.



"I wish he was in town," Collins said Friday.

The reunion is logistically impossible because the Jazz had to vacate their court for the NCAA's sake this weekend. Even so, the No. 8-seeded Wildcats will enjoy a favorable atmosphere of support Saturday — even in the arena where Gonzaga graduate John Stockton became an NBA legend.

Amid the many twists and turns of Snyder's professional career, he'll never forget how it all started at Duke. Having finished law school and earned a master's degree in business, he pursued full-time coaching under Mike Krzyzewski in Collins' senior season of 1995-96.

All these years later, they remain bonded and supportive of one another.

"He was a special player for me," Snyder said.

"Quin is really special to me," Collins said.

"I'm not surprised with what he's done," Snyder said.

"I'm not surprised by his success," Collins said.

Collins struggled through his junior year at Duke, the season Krzyzewski missed with a back injury, but he responded well as a senior. "Quin came in with his energy and he really took me under his wing," Collins said. "And we did a lot of work together. … I've always been a big fan. We've always been close."

Collins rewarded Snyder with that game-winning shot at North Carolina State. The Blue Devils stood 0-4 in Atlantic Coast Conference play and trailed by two points in Raleigh before Collins dribbled down and delivered a 3-pointer with 5.5 seconds left. "It changed a lot," Snyder said this week. "We won that game and kind of got a little confidence. It says who he is, as much as anything."

Duke finished only 8-8 in the ACC and lost to Eastern Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to conclude Collins' career, but his winning shot helped launch a revival of the program after a minor downturn. The Blue Devils went successively further in the tournament in each of Snyder's last three years as an assistant, losing to Connecticut in the 1999 championship game before Snyder took the Missouri coaching job.

Collins subsequently became a Duke assistant, working for Krzyzewski for 13 years until becoming Northwestern's coach in 2013. The Wildcats have improved steadily under Collins, going 10-8 in Big Ten play this season and receiving the school's first NCAA bid. Then came Thursday's 68-66 victory over Vanderbilt, as Northwestern advanced to meet No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Doug Collins fits into this story in multiple ways. He's the Heather Hayward of Northwestern, evoking memories of how the twin sister of Jazz star Gordon Hayward became the TV cameras' go-to fan for reaction shots in the stands in 2010 when they were Butler sophomores. Doug Collins will agonize through another game Saturday, watching his son coach the Wildcats.

And he's supportive of Snyder, personally and professionally. The family became so attached to Snyder during Chris' senior season that when Snyder resigned at Missouri in 2006, he lived with Doug Collins and his wife in Phoenix while reassessing his career. And after Snyder coached the Austin Toros of the NBA Development League for three years, Collins brought him into the NBA as a player development assistant in Philadelphia.

More moves around the NBA and internationally would follow before Snyder took the Jazz's job in 2014 and accelerated a rebuilding project that will result in a playoff berth next month. The Collinses will be watching with interest.

"I'm really happy for him," Chris Collins said. "He's always been really close to our family, and a special guy."

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