CHAMPAIGN — Longtime Illinois men's basketball coach Jimmy Collins died Sunday morning at the age of 74.
Collins joined the Illinois coaching staff under Lou Henson in 1983 and was a popular assistant coach until Henson's retirement in 1996. He then became head coach at Illinois-Chicago and spent 14 years at the helm of the Flames program through 2010. During his tenure at UIC, Collins amassed more wins than any coach in program history, 218. He also led the Flames to four postseason appearances, including three NCAA Tournament trips.
"There are no words that could come close to how heavy my heart is at this moment," former Illini Deon Thomas wrote on Twitter. "I truly loved this man. He was so much more than a coach to me. Please pray for his family and his players. He will live forever in us. Rest now pops."
There are no words that could come close to how heavy my heart is at this moment. I truly loved this man. He was so much more than a coach to me. Please pray for his family and his players. He will live forever in us. Rest now pops 🙏🏾. pic.twitter.com/DXykdeQTiG— Deon Thomas (@deonthomas25) December 13, 2020
During his 13 years in Champaign, Illinois posted a record of 279-129, made 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, won a Big Ten title in 1984, and advanced to the Final Four in 1989 as the Flyin' Illini won a then-school record 31 games. Collins helped recruit many of the outstanding players from that era and served many of them as a life-long friend and mentor.
A former first-round draft pick (11th overall) of the Chicago Bulls, Collins was a probation officer in Chicago prior to arriving at Illinois under Henson to begin his long collegiate coaching career. He was a star guard at New Mexico State under Henson, where he earned his bachelor's degree in journalism in 1970.
"The Flying Illini & The Illini family are devastated this morning," former Illini Kendall Gill wrote on Twitter. "The Architect of our team has passed. You will be more than missed Jimmy Collins ( Coach C)! Never thought we would lose u and Coach Henson in a matter of months. The end of 2020 can’t come soon enough!!!"
The Flying Illini & The Illini family are devastated this morning. The Architect of our team has passed. You will be more than missed Jimmy Collins ( Coach C)! Never thought we would lose u and Coach Henson in a matter of months. The end of 2020 can’t come soon enough!!! pic.twitter.com/1A3Al7X5Gq— Kendall Gill (@KendallG13) December 13, 2020
Collins averaged nearly 20 points over his three-year career, leading the Aggies to the NCAA Final Four in 1970. After college, he spent two years with the Bulls and finished his playing career with Carolina Cougars of the American Basketball Association.
A native of Syracuse, New York, Collins is survived by his beloved wife, Hettie, and four children: Erica, Kenny, Semaj and Brandi.
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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25