Jimmy Collins, the first head coach to lead the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) men’s basketball program to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament, passed away December 13. He was 74 years old.
Collins was named head men’s basketball coach for the Flames on March 27, 1996, and he would go on to spend 14 years at the helm through the 2009-10 campaign. During his tenure at UIC, Collins amassed more wins than any coach in program history, 218, and he led the program to four postseason appearances, including the NCAA Tournament three times. Collins’ teams won at least 20 games four times and they posted a winning record nine times.
In his first year, the Flames won 14 of their final 20 games to reach the Midwestern Collegiate Conference championship game. For his part, Collins was named the 1996-97 MCC Co-Coach of the Year. That helped set the stage for the 1997-98 season that saw the Flames win 22 games and secure an at-large berth to the first NCAA Tournament in program history.
UIC would later earn automatic bids to the tournament under Collins again in 2002 and 2004. The 2003-04 squad won a school-record 24 games, including 12 in a row entering March Madness. Collins and the team narrowly missed another NCAA bid in 2003 and played in that year’s NIT.
Collins aided five Flames in earning a collective eight All-Conference First Team recognitions. Seven different UIC standouts were named to the league’s All-Defensive Team a combined nine times during his time as coach.
A native of Syracuse, NY, Collins was inducted into the UIC Athletics Hall of Fame in 2019.
Prior to arriving in Chicago, Collins spent 13 seasons as an assistant at the University of Illinois.
Collins played collegiately at New Mexico State from 1967-70. He was a Second Team All-American in 1970 as he helped the Aggies reach the Final Four. Later, he was selected 11th overall by the Chicago Bulls during that year’s NBA Draft. After two seasons in Chicago, he spent one additional year playing professionally with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars.
Collins is survived by his wife, Hettie, and four children: Erica, Kenny, Semaj, and Brandi.