In Memoriam: Former UIC Men’s Basketball Coach Jimmy Collins

Jimmy Collins, the first head coach to lead the UIC men’s basketball program to the NCAA Tournament, passed away early Sunday morning, 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. 

Following a rocky start to his inaugural season at UIC, Collins quickly turned things around to help the Flames win 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 Big Dance under Collins again in 2002 and 2004. The 2003-04 squad, led by the program’s all-time leading scorer, Cedrick Banks, and one of the most prolific point guards in UIC history, Martell Bailey, 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: Mark Miller, Bryant Lowe, Banks (3), Othyus Jeffers and Josh Mayo (2). Nine players picked up 10 Second Team All-Conference honors and nine were also named to the Conference All-Newcomer Team. Seven different UIC standouts were named to the league’s All-Defensive Team a combined nine times during his stint on the near west side.

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Collins was inducted into the UIC Athletics Hall of Fame in 2019. The tone-setting 1997-98 team was welcomed as part of the prior class in 2017. Two of Collins’ players – Miller (2003) and Banks (2013) – are also individual members of the UIC Athletics Hall of Fame.

UIC had a knack for defeating foes from some of the nation’s best-known conferences under Collins’ watch. Georgia Tech (ACC), Vanderbilt (SEC), Ole Miss (SEC), Oregon State (Pac-10), Northwestern (Big Ten), Michigan State (Big Ten), Texas A&M (Big 12) and DePaul (BIG EAST) are some of the power-conference programs that went down in defeat at the hands of Collins-led UIC teams.

Prior to arriving in Chicago, Collins spent 13 seasons as an assistant under the legendary Lou Henson at the University of Illinois. Known as a dogged recruiter in Chicagoland and beyond, Collins was one of the primary architects of the famed 1988-89 “Flyin’ Illini” squad that won 31 games and reached the Final Four. He also recruited and signed that school’s all-time leading scorer, and a former assistant coach at UIC, Deon Thomas.

Collins played collegiately for Henson 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 Courage.

Collins is survived by his beloved wife, Hettie, and four children: Erica, Kenny, Semaj and Brandi.

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