CHAMPAIGN – Midway through the 2007-08 season, the Illinois basketball programs added another assistant coach.
But this hire was under the radar. Troy Collier was brought on as the academic counselor for men's and women's basketball after eight seasons of recruiting and game planning as an assistant at Eastern Illinois, Missouri State and Ball State.
"He was a coach," UI coach Bruce Weber says, "so he has that background (players) can relate to."
Collier left Ball State in August and was hired at Illinois in January. With aspirations of one day working in the front office of an NBA franchise, Collier said he stepped away from the coaching world for several reasons. One, "I love this university," where he earned a double master's degree, he says. Two, it allowed him to work with men's and women's basketball alongside "good people" in Weber and Jolette Law. Three, it's home: Collier was a 1989 graduate of Danville High School. And in his office is an Eastern Illinois team photo featuring Collier as a player and Weber's brother, Dave, as an assistant coach.
"Now I have the opportunity to coach in a different way," says Collier, who once left a high-paying job in the business world when Rick Samuels offered an assistant coaching position at Eastern Illinois. "This is an age group that I've always gravitated toward. This is a very impressionable age group, one step away from being on their own."
Outside his duties as an adviser to current UI athletes, Collier also inspects the academic transcripts of prospective student-athletes – Illini recruiting interests. He goes by Big Ten academic requirements moreso than NCAA requirements; if a kid can qualify under Big Ten standards, he usually can qualify under NCAA standards.
"The Big Ten is harder (in terms of academic requirements)," Collier says.
Collier does not rule out a return to coaching – there was interest in the vacancy on Weber's staff created by Tracy Webster's departure for Kentucky in September – but his mind-set is to pursue the administrative side of athletics.
"I think I'll always be a coach," he says. "When I watch games, I watch them through the eyes of a coach; the plays, the strategy, why this guy is doing this or that."
Weber says a coaching background has made Collier's office a welcome stop for the players.
"He still loves basketball, still watches practice when he can," Weber says. "When he has a meeting with the guys, they meet about the future and time management and classes. They can sit and talk about basketball, too, because he's been around it and he was a coach. It helps them in making them understand what it takes to balance (coursework and athletics). I think it's been good."