Commentary

A similar path

Duke guard Scheyer follows the footsteps of coach Collins into the Final Four

Updated: April 3, 2010, 1:35 AM ET
By Scott Powers | ESPNChicago.com

Before there was Jon Scheyer, there was Chris Collins.

Scheyer may be the current topic of conversation in Northbrook, Ill., but before he ever starred at Glenbrook North, won Illinois' Mr. Basketball, committed to Duke and led the Blue Devils to the Final Four, Collins did every one of those same things.

"Chris Collins started the tradition at Glenbrook North," Glenbrook North coach David Weber said. "Before him, there really wasn't a great basketball tradition. Jon is a part of that continuation of what Chris started at Glenbrook North."

[+] EnlargeChris Collins
Getty ImagesChris Collins played in a Final Four in 1994, but it wasn't until 2001 that he finally won it all.

Even one of Scheyer's earliest basketball memories includes going to see Collins play in high school.

"I was about 5, and I always remember we'd have to leave 2 hours early just to get in the door to see Chris play," Scheyer said. "My parents said it was that hard to get into the game. If you were 2 hours early, you couldn't get in the gym. I never had that like he did."

The next step for Scheyer to further follow Collins' path would be to return to Duke as an assistant. While Scheyer will be on the court Saturday as a player trying to advance the Blue Devils to the national championship game, Collins will be on Duke's bench as a coach aiming for that same goal. For the past 10 years, Collins has been an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski at his alma mater.

"This is my third [Final Four] as a coach, and I had a chance to go as a player," said Collins, who was made an associate head coach in 2008. "I have to tell you it's never less exciting, never less fun. It's why you do what you do to be in a position to win a national championship and go to a Final Four."

Collins' first Final Four trip was as a player in 1994. As a sophomore, Collins started along with Grant Hill, Cherokee Parks, Antonio Lang and Jeff Capel. In the opening round, he scored a team-high 20 points in a win over Texas Southern. Duke followed with victories over Michigan State, Marquette, Purdue and Florida to reach the national championship. He had four steals against Purdue.

In the title game, Duke and Arkansas fought until the very end. With 51 seconds left, Razorbacks guard Scotty Thurman drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to put his team ahead 73-70. On Duke's following possession, Collins tried to tie the game with a 25-footer, but his shot rimmed out. Thurman grabbed the rebound and Arkansas prevailed.

"It's disappointing because we came up a little short," Collins said. "We lost in the national championship game. It was a real close game and one we could have won. I had a shot at the end of the game that went in and out. If I could have made that shot or Scotty Thurman didn't make that rainbow 3, we could have won."

Duke's Final Four run would be the highlight of Collins' career. He wouldn't get another shot at the national championship as Duke failed to make the NCAA tournament his junior season and lost in the first round when he was a senior.

"Looking back when going through it, you don't concentrate on how special it is," Collins said. "Looking back on it, it was my greatest experience as a player. I remember saying to myself, 'This is the game I've forever dreamed of playing my whole life in my backyard.' Being there and realizing your dream is a special moment."

Following a brief professional career and a couple of other coaching jobs, Collins returned to Duke as an assistant in 2000. In his first season back, the Blue Devils provided him that missing piece from his playing career -- a national championship.

"It eliminated that feeling not to win it," Collins said. "It was great. For me to have come up a little short as a player and come back in my first year on the staff with Jay Williams, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer, to be a part of that and win the whole thing, you never forget that. That's why you do what you do. It makes you hungrier to do that again."

Duke has come close with a Final Four appearance in 2004 and five other Sweet 16s, but it hasn't won the whole thing since. Collins hopes that changes this season.

[+] EnlargeChris Collins
Bob Donnan/US PresswireChris Collins and the Blue Devils look to book their school's 10th appearance in the championship game.

"It's been about nine years and we're as hungry as we are every year to get it again," Collins said. "Yeah, it feels like an eternity because you know what it's like to be there. It does feel like a long time."

Collins' preparation for Saturday's game against West Virginia has included splitting up scouting duties with fellow associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski and working primarily with the guards.

This time around the Final Four is different for Collins, too, as he will be sharing the experience with Scheyer. Collins has known Scheyer since he was a kid, back when Scheyer was just starting to be compared with Collins. Their relationship grew over the years, and Collins played a major part in Scheyer's recruitment to Duke.

"We have a nice, close relationship," Collins said. "I kind of view him as a little brother. I didn't have a brother growing up. Just watching his career and his journey and being a small part of it has been an amazing experience for me. We've been linked in so many ways. It's been incredibly special to win something together."

Scheyer has felt the same.

"For me, I've had lonely moments throughout college and hard moments as many people do," Scheyer said. "Most people aren't lucky enough to have an older brother or coach who has gone through the same experiences, came from the same community, same high school. He's the first one to talk to me calmly or yell at me. He's just really been that person for me.

"One thing we share so much is the love for the game. We can talk about the game for hours. What I've always loved about him is his knowledge of the game and history of the game."

Through their many talks, Scheyer understands one great truth from Collins as he's about to play in his first Final Four.

"I think the one thing is I know how hard it is personally trying to get there," Scheyer said. "I know there have been great teams that haven't got to the Final Four. One of Duke's best teams in 2002 with Jay Williams, Dunleavy, Boozer, they didn't even get to the Final Four. We're very fortunate to be in the Final Four."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.

Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.