Last Friday Duke lost to Maryland in the ACC tourney quarterfinals, but still earned an at-large bid to this week’s NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils were stunned by #15-seed Lehigh in the 2012 NCAA tourney, but bounced back in 2013 to claim the school’s 18th straight NCAA tourney bid. Earlier today Jon Teitel got to speak with associate head coach Chris Collins about what it feels like to work with the winningest coach in college basketball history.
You were an assistant for the Blue Devils when they won the NCAA title in 2001/2010: what did it mean to you to win a pair of titles, and what is the key to winning games in March? Winning the national championship in both of those years was an incredible feeling. I came up short as a player in 1994 (a 4-PT loss to Arkansas in the title game), so to be able to be a part of 2 different teams that were able to win the whole thing was very special. Winning games in March takes a lot of toughness, courage, and great leadership. No matter what, each team that ends up winning is going to face some adversity along the way. The ones who come out on top are the teams that can fight through those situations and not allow themselves to lose. That is very important when you are playing in a 1-and-done situation like the NCAA tourney.
Ryan Kelly missed last year’s NCAA tourney as well as 13 games this year due to injuries: how crucial is he to your team’s success in the NCAA tourney? Ryan has shown everyone just how valuable he is to our team. He missed our ACC and NCAA tourney games last year and we went 1-2 without him, but this year we are 18-1 with him on the floor. Ryan is a guy that helps stabilize our team on both ends of the court. He plays at a great tempo and has a high basketball IQ. As valuable as he is with his shooting and skill on offense, he is equally important on defense. His is almost always in the right spots, which allows him to help with his rebounding/shot blocking. There is no question that we are at our best when he is playing well.
You have beaten a ton of tourney teams this season (Florida Gulf Coast/Minnesota/VCU/Louisville/Ohio State/Temple/Davidson/NC State/North Carolina/Miami): which of them impressed you the most? We are very proud of the schedule we played this year. We challenged ourselves with a very difficult non-league schedule which we hoped would get us ready for ACC play, and then eventually the NCAA tourney. A lot of those teams we played are poised to make deep runs this month. It is tough to say who is the best, but I will say that I would not be surprised to see at least a couple of those teams in the Final 4.
Your team’s 40.6 3P% is among the best in the country: do you feel like you need to make long-range shots in order to win games? Certainly utilizing the 3-PT shot has been a big part of our offensive success throughout the season. We try to put multiple shooters on the court that can help give us the spacing we need to be an effective offensive team. We feel like we have great balance with this year’s team to be able to work through Mason Plumlee in the post, in addition to being a good 3-PT shooting team. Hopefully in games where we do not shoot as well, we will still be able to find other ways to get points and rely on our defense to grind out a win…but don’t get me wrong: it is going to be better for us if are making shots!
Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski is the winningest coach in NCAA history: what makes him such a great coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him? It is amazing to see the passion and fire that Coach K still has for winning and coaching at Duke. It is an amazing inspiration for me every day that I am around him. For someone who has won everything that you could ever imagine in this sport, he still coaches every day with an attitude as if he has never won anything. I think that personality rubs off on his guys and they absolutely love playing for him.
You play Albany on Friday in Philly: what do you know about the Great Danes, and after last year is it safe to say that you will not be looking past the #15-seed? We are excited about the opportunity to play Albany in Philly. We have great respect for what they have accomplished in winning their conference tourney, especially going on the road to get it done. They are an extremely well-coached team, they have excellent guard play, and they do not beat themselves. They are very disciplined on both ends of the court, which will require us to play very good basketball in order to beat them. At this point, seeding does not mean anything. Everyone still playing is good, and we are definitely looking forward to the challenge that Albany will present.
Your father Doug coaches the Sixers, but will begin a 4-game road-trip later this week: are you going to get to see him before he leaves town, and has he given you any tips about where to hang out in the City of Brotherly Love? Since I was born in Philly and my parents/sister both currently live there, I am excited about having the chance to go up there for the NCAA tourney. Although the Sixers will be out of town and I will not get to see my dad, it will still be great to see the rest of my family/friends in the area. Philly holds a special place in our family’s hearts, so I am looking forward to the trip.