WCIA — Jimmy Collins will never forget the first time he met Lou Henson. It was on his recruiting visit to New Mexico State.
“He gave me a pair of Chuck Taylor’s and asked me if I could dunk, and I said, ‘Yeah!,'” Collins said. “But I had been on a bus for four days, and I could barely touch the rim. And I was thinking, ‘Wow, maybe I better get back on this bus and leave.’ I’m so happy that I never got back on that bus.”
And the rest was history.
After the Syracuse-native played for Henson at New Mexico State, he later became a part of Henson’s Illinois coaching staff in 1983. Collins helped build one of the most iconic eras in Illinois basketball history, recruiting top-level Chicago talent on the 1989 Final Four team, as well as Deon Thomas, the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“He’s a man that gave me the opportunity to play at the University of Illinois, that quite literally changed the trajectory of my family, and that doesn’t happen without Lou Henson,” Thomas said.
After Henson retired at Illinois in 1996, Collins became the head coach at UIC, putting everything into practice he learned from Lou.
“I think I might have been a little rougher on our players,” Collins said. “But yet, I don’t know because Lou was pretty rough when he came through there. But a lot of things that he talked about, and a lot of the things that you said that you should do, I took that with me, and it helped me.”
Collins’ long-time relationship with Henson budded into a life long friendship–their last conversation was over the phone on Father’s Day last month.
“There probably won’t be another coach who understood people, and understood the game better than Lou Henson,” Collins added. “Those meetings and conversations that he and I had, helped me to develop not only into a better basketball player, but a better person.”