Big Ten

Duke chatter unlikely to stop, but newly extended Chris Collins wants to be at Northwestern: 'There's no reason for me to look elsewhere'

Duke chatter unlikely to stop, but newly extended Chris Collins wants to be at Northwestern: 'There's no reason for me to look elsewhere'

OK, guys. You can stop talking about Chris Collins and the Duke job now.

It's unrealistic to assume that in the modern era of college sports speculation over coaching changes will ever completely cease. But Northwestern and its head men's basketball coach made some pretty definitive statements Tuesday over Collins' future, mainly that it will be in Evanston. Not Durham or anywhere else.

"I always wanted to have the opportunity to coach at a place that I could call home," Collins said Tuesday after the announcement of his new contract extension that keeps him as the Wildcats' head coach through the 2024-25 season. "Fit is so important on every level. Northwestern is a fit for me and my family and our staff. I love the people there. I love the commitment from the university, the leadership, to see what we've been able to build over the last four years and how everyone has supported that.

"It was never about being here to go somewhere else. I came to Northwestern to be the Northwestern coach for a long time. ... That's what this commitment does. I want to be here, I love it, and I'm excited to be the coach for a long, long time."

It's no shock that Collins potentially leaving for greener pastures would be a talking point. He's done a remarkable job in just four seasons at Northwestern, transforming a perennial basement-dweller into a winning Big Ten program. This past season he guided the Cats to a program-record 24 wins, the semifinal round of the Big Ten Tournament, the program's first-ever NCAA tournament appearance and a win in its first-ever NCAA tournament game.

Collins keeps racking up resume-building victories and earning commitments from the highest-rated recruits the program has ever seen. This season could be another milestone campaign with four starters returning from last year's team.

Then throw in Collins' history prior to arriving at Northwestern, his nearly 20 years in Mike Krzyzewski's Duke program as a player and an assistant coach. Coach K's advancing age means he won't coach at Duke forever, and if he retires soon, why wouldn't Collins be at the top of Duke's wishlist?

But Northwestern has plenty going for it, too. A product of Glenbrook North High School, Collins has long called Chicagoland home. He also has the opportunity to do something that would be impossible at Duke, and that's building his own program and leaving his own legacy.

It might sound bizarre considering that as recently as two months ago Northwestern had never played in the NCAA tournament, but why can't Collins do at Northwestern what Coach K did at Duke? Establishing an academic powerhouse as one of the top basketball programs in one of the best conferences in America sounds kind of familiar.

"The first thing he always told me was, 'Go be yourself, don't try to be me.' But seeing what could be done at places like that, I use that as motivation," Collins said. "I felt this was a great spot for me. I felt a belief from Day 1 that we could be a winning program, we could be a place that you could do it long term, where it wasn't just a quick fix, where you didn't have one team that was good but you could be good year in and year out because of the leadership, because of the resources and everything that Northwestern had to sell. I did, I always believed in my heart we could be here for a long, long time, and I'm glad that's going to be the case.

"I grew up with a famous father, so I've always been motivated by blazing my own trail. I've always wanted to have my own identity and my own legacy and leave my own mark on different places. I viewed this as an opportunity to do that: a great school in my hometown with the opportunity to have tremendous growth in the basketball program and a place I thought I could make my own. I feel like I found that. I love being here and working for (athletics director Jim) Phillips and the administration and the resources that they've given me to continue to build this thing. There's no reason for me to look elsewhere."

Northwestern is pouring a ton of resources into its two highest-profile programs with hopes of ridding any notion it's a stepping stone, attempting to cement a reputation as a destination job in both men's basketball and football. Near decade-long contract extensions for Collins and head football coach Pat Fitzgerald coupled with massive facilities projects in both sports show how serious this academic powerhouse is about sports.

In this industry there's always a perfectly acceptable reason for fans, observers, recruits and whoever else to be wary. Leaving for a different job is as common among college basketball coaches as screaming at referees.

But Collins has good reasons to match words with intent. He has his connections to the area and his opportunity to make his own legacy. He has an awful lot to show for four years on the job. And now he has a hefty financial commitment from his university in the form of his new extension and the stadium renovations at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

You don't have to slam the Duke door shut. But it doesn't seem like you have to worry about Collins sprinting through it anytime soon.

"For me, it's always been about being here. I've never viewed this as not being a destination. It's my home," he said. "I love Northwestern, I love everything about it, I love the people, I love the young men I get to coach, the staff we have on a daily basis. My family loves living here.

"To me this has always been about being here, and that's not going to change. This is where I'm going to be, and I couldn't be more excited about that. I can't wait to see what we can build. We've done some good things, but to me it's just the beginning of what our potential is. And that's what drives me and that's what motivates me to keep this thing going."

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.