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Minneapolis For some fans of Kansas University, watching Sherron Collins play basketball can amount to a hate-love relationship with their television sets.
When he makes his defender look like a klutz and finishes with a bucket at the hoop, you scream “Wow!” at your TV. Then you scream “Bad shot!” Then “Wow!” Then, “Bad turnover!” Then, “Wow!” Then, “Bad shot!” Then, “Wow!”
In Sunday’s second-round NCAA Tournament victory against Dayton, there was nothing to hate, or even mildly dislike, about the way Collins played in the shadow of his foot-taller teammate.
On the day center Cole Aldrich had the first recorded triple-double in school history, Collins took amazing care of the basketball without sacrificing any of his relentless aggression.
In helping Kansas reach the Sweet 16 with a 60-43 victory against Dayton, Collins opened the game determined to break down the Flyers’ defense with hard drives to the hoop to set up teammates.
Even after he repeatedly delivered teammates with perimeter shots and they kept missing them, Collins continued to trust them by firing them passes after the defense collapsed on him.
Of his 19 shots from the field, only two or three could be described as bad. Collins was as positive an influence on Kansas offensively as Aldrich (13 points, 20 rebounds, 10 blocked shots) was defensively.
Collins played 35 minutes against the Flyers and didn’t have a single turnover. His low assist total of two was more a function of Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed and Tyshawn Taylor combining to make two of 14 shots than anything else.
Collins finished with 25 points and seven rebounds, all on the defensive end.
As usual, he led with his chin. His wisdom sometimes can be questioned, but nobody ever doubts his toughness.
“That’s just me,” Collins said. “I think I just grew up that way, just being from Chicago and playing against bigger guys all the time. You know, they knock you down, and you have to get up or you can’t play with them. This is my mind-state, and I ain’t gonna let nobody punk me or my teammates.”
In two games in the Metrodome, Collins averaged 28.5 points and had 10 assists and two turnovers. The most significant number would be the two turnovers.
“Sherron impacts a college game more than any guard I’ve coached because I put more pressure on him, and he has the ball all the time,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Self, who loves tough athletes and is willing to put up with a lot from them in the way of resisting his coaching at times, didn’t hesitate in identifying the source of his lead guard’s toughness.
“The streets of Chicago,” the coach said. “He has one very, very attractive trait to me, that he is ridiculously stubborn and that can be also an unattractive trait. But the bigger the challenges, the more he likes it. He doesn’t always perform at a high level, and sometimes he can get in his own way, but it’s not ever because he doesn’t believe that he belongs.”
Collins playing well in three of the four halves in Minneapolis and Aldrich playing dominant games back-to-back in his hometown left members of the national media wondering if Kansas can make a run at another national title.
“I think we’ve got the potential,” Collins said. “And we’ve just got to put all the things together and play good. I think we can make a run in the tournament. We started one already, so we’re going to Indianapolis and trying to take it one game at a time. Anything happens in March, and that’s why they call it March Madness.”
Even when Collins shoots Kansas out of a game, stubbornly believing he alone can bring his team back from a deep hole, Self tends to be tempered in his criticism of him, tends to protect him.
“I wouldn't trade Sherron for any guard in the country,” Self said after the Dayton game. “But, you know, Jim Boeheim wouldn’t trade Jonny Flynn (Syracuse). Ben Howland wouldn’t trade Darren Collison (UCLA). Roy Williams wouldn’t trade Ty Lawson (North Carolina). There are a lot of good guards out there. And that’s the coaches, that’s how we feel. It doesn’t make us right or whatever. But Sherron fits me.”
“I love recruiting Chicago, and when I was at Illinois we had pretty good success there, and we’ve had a little bit of success here with Julian (Wright) and Sherron (Collins) and Mario (Little),” Self said. “I just love guys with toughness and love guys who you can’t tell them what they can’t do. If you tell Sherron what he can’t do, it’s just motivation for him to do it. He’s an easy guy to motivate. I think he can go down as one of the most unbelievable success stories, not just because of basketball because of where he came from and how hard it was for him to get out of where he came from. He’s had the deck stacked against him, and now he’s on the level playing field, and we’re just watching him start to grow up and flourish.”
Self doesn’t spend much time studying Collins’ shooting stats.
“One thing I think you should always evaluate a point guard on, there is only one stat that matters, and that’s wins and losses,” Self said. “And you look at the wins that we’ve had this year and the success we’ve had with basically a whole new team and with the youth, I mean, the guy has some intangibles other than the fact that he can really play.”
Next stop for Kansas (27-7) is Indianapolis, where it looks to avenge a January loss to Michigan State. Collins played very poorly in the first half of that one and very well in the second. With two good halves from him and Aldrich, a fourth trip to the Elite Eight in his six years as Kansas coach is a strong possibility for Self, who also made it that far at Tulsa and Illinois.