IT'S UNLIKELY Paul Romanczuk, head basketball coach at Archbishop Carroll High, orchestrator of a successful state title run in 2009, will ever forget the July Fourth weekend, 1998 version.
After all, it's not every day you fly from Philly to Arizona and then get greeted at the baggage carousel by a famous guy in a big-time sport. Who happens to be your girlfriend's dad.
"You can imagine how nervous I was," Romanczuk said. "She'd told me how much of a daddy's girl she was, how tough he was going to be on me. But he was great, and funny. Made me feel very welcome, and comfortable. It made for a very nice weekend."
The guy was Doug Collins, and today - as the luck of the coaching version of the carousel would have it - he'll be introduced as the Sixers' new head man.
At the time of that first meeting, Romanczuk, already a basketball star (he split his scholastic career between Malvern Prep and Carroll), was fresh off his junior year at Penn. The gal he was dating, coming off her sophomore year at Lehigh, likewise was quite the hoopster.
Her name? Kelly Collins. Current handle? Mrs. Romanczuk.
We're talkin' family affair, and we're hearin' the unabashed joy, even through a cell phone with a somewhat shaky connection.
"It's such a great twist of fate, that we can all be in the same area. We're so excited!" Kelly Romanczuk gushed yesterday. "I'm working with a realtor to get them some properties to look at. They won't be out near us [deep western suburbs], a little too far from the arena, but wherever it's going to be, it'll be a short drive, and that's going to be great!"
And when Collins discussed his new position during last night's TNT telecast of the Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Suns, he, too, mentioned family and home.
"It is a great opportunity for me and my family," Collins said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge and I think they have some nice young pieces there. I started back there 37 years ago and I'm looking forward to going home."
You know Sixers' fans, though. They're beyond hissed about everything that has happened in recent seasons and their warm and fuzzies for the fact the Collins family now will enjoy close proximity only count for so much.
The one question they'd love to ask Kelly: What's your dad going to do for us? For our team?
"You can expect someone who's going to give everything he possibly has," she said. "The fans should feel confident that anything he can possibly do to make the team better, he'll do it. He has always given 110 percent in any coaching job he's had.
"He'll be passionate through the good times, and bad times. He's not someone who just gives up."
When it was mentioned that obsessed might be too strong a word to describe her dad, but something close likely fits, she broke right in with, "No, I think obsessed is a good word."
She continued, "My dad and I have a lot of the same personality traits. When it comes to wanting to be the best, wanting to do your best, obsessed can be a good thing."
How about managerial skills? Was there maybe one key time in her life when daughter floundered and dad earned a save?
Kelly mentioned that she and her mom, Kathy, remained in Chicago for her final year of high school as dad coached the Pistons. The family relocated to Detroit soon after Kelly's graduation, and soon she was off to Lehigh.
"I was surrounded by great people at Lehigh, but I was very, very homesick," she said. "Then, when I did go home at the winter break, it wasn't to the Chicago home where I'd lived for 12 years. Everything was hitting me. Should I transfer to somewhere closer to my parents? I was lying on my bed, crying and crying.
"My dad heard me and came in. He said he'd support me in whatever I wanted to do. But he also told me, 'You're going to have to decide what you think is best. Kelly, I know you're strong enough to make the best of the situation at Lehigh. You really loved it, and everything it had to offer. I feel you can really make a name for yourself there.' Back for that second semester, we went on to win the Patriot League championship. Everything did work out for me at Lehigh.
"That day still sticks with me. If he had not caught me in that moment, if I had changed my course, where would I be now? I probably wouldn't be living in Philadelphia. Probably wouldn't have met Paul. It all comes into my mind. A real turning point."
She laughed. "He said I could do it. He was right. As dads usually are."
The Romanczuks (row-mann-zicks) have two sons, Cooper, nearly 3, and Collin, 16 months (and, yes the double l is no accident).
Paul said, over these last 7 years, he figured his father-in-law, a star guard for the Sixers during his playing career, eventually would take one last shot at coaching.
After all, he always has stressed X's and O's during his stint as a TV analyst and, even when just watching games in the Romanczuks' house, he blurts out opinions.
"He can't help himself," Paul cracked. "Whatever you would hear coming out of the TV, it's right in our living room. He just can't watch a game. He has to live it."
He added, "In our wildest dreams, though, we didn't think it would happen in Philadelphia. Only because it came close to happening in other cities . . . Well, we did think it might happen here last year, but then they went with Eddie Jordan. But now, things have circled back around. We said our prayers and crossed our fingers. And here we are, very happy."
Within reason. After all, this is Philadelphia.
"Hey, I'm a Philadelphia fan and I have my strong opinions, just like everybody else," Paul said. "I'm well aware of how tough of a sports town this is when the franchises aren't doing so well. Even when they are doing well. Look at what Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb have dealt with. All they did was win.
"I am nervous for my father-in-law and our family a little bit, but we'll deal with what comes along."
Said Kelly: "We'll take any criticism for the good it has to offer. I have talked to Paul about staying off the blogs, though. On those things, I feel the people, and those who make comments, too often cross boundaries. We'll stick with the facts and good analysis in the regular media."
Except for the '05 season (medical leave), Paul Romanczuk, has coached Carroll since the '03 campaign. Doug Collins has given occasional talks to the Patriots, and witnessed workouts, and last winter, after the Patriots toughed out an overtime win at Conwell-Egan, he sat down with his son-in-law the next day to break down the complete video.
"He has a great basketball mind," Romanczuk said. "He visualizes things before they even come to fruition."
In all these years, have the guys ever disagreed?
"Nope. I know better," Romanczuk said, laughing. "He knows his basketball."