Collins was born in Atlantic City and moved to Gloucester City, New Jersey at a young age. He attended Gloucester Catholic High School, where he excelled at basketball. He went on to Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), receiving a B.A. degree in science education in 1964 and a master’s degree in student personnel services in 1967. With the Glassboro Profs basketball team, Collins scored 1,038 points in his career, earning him a place in the South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame.
After graduation, he taught science and coached basketball at Sterling High School. The following year he was invited to become basketball coach at the newly established Camden County College. A year later he became head coach at Glassboro State, and at 26 was one of the youngest head basketball coaches in the country. As coach he racked up 131 victories and three consecutive conference titles.