LAS CRUCES, NM – Jimmy Collins, one of the all-time Aggie greats to ever dawn a New Mexico State jersey, has died at the age of 74. Collins’ family made the announcement on Sunday.
The star of the Aggies’ magical Final Four run in 1970, Collins is the only NMSU player to be named to an All-American team three times. Under the late Lou Henson, the native of Syracuse, New York, also led his team to a trio of NCAA Tournament appearances. To this day, Collins holds two single-season records: scoring (754 points) and field goals made (322). Collins ranks third on NMSU’s all-time scoring list with 1,734 points, although he played before the three-point shot was adopted by college basketball.
“He’d go behind the back, between his legs, spin and he had a soft touch,” said former teammate of Collins’ Charlie Criss. “He shot a knuckleball. His ball didn’t really spin.”
On the fabled 1969-70 Final Four team, Collins was the team’s leading scorer (24.6 ppg) while also averaging 4.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He was named a First Team All-American by three separate entities (Converse, Helms, and the USBWA). Collins was chosen as the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region MVP before earning a spot on the NCAA’s All-Final Four Team. Additionally, he was also a two-time NCAA All-Tournament team selection.
“I never had to worry about him [Jimmy Collins],” said Collin’ former teammate and coach at NMSU Rob Evans. “I was the captain of the team the two years I was there and I never had to worry about getting Jimmy [Collins] ready. He was my best teammate.”
The eleventh overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 1970 NBA Draft, Collins played 74 games over the course of two seasons (1970-72). After his playing career, he returned to Las Cruces to serve as graduate assistant for Henson for two years.
Collins signed on as an assistant coach with Henson at Illinois in 1983. During his 13-year tenure in that role, Collins established himself as one of college basketball’s premier assistant coaches and recruiters. He had an integral role in helping the Fighting Illini sign future NBA players Nick Anderson, Marcus Liberty, Kendall Gill, Deon Thomas and other members of the “Flying Illini’s” 1989 Final Four team.
In 1996, Collins was named the head coach at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). During his 14-year career with the Flames, he led UIC to three NCAA Tournament appearances (1998, 2002, and 2004) and accumulated 218 victories, the most of any coach in school history. Collins retired in the summer of 2010.
During the 2006-07 season, Collins was selected to the Aggies’ All-Century team. Other recipients include Henson, Criss, and Sam Lacey — teammates of Collins’ on the 1970 Final Four squad.