But at 5-11 and 205 – nearly the same size at which Willie Pless was named an All-American at middle linebacker – Sherron Collins is quickly learning and earning his stripes with the KU basketball team.
That maturation process continued Saturday night as Collins – a Chicago all-city football player in his own right – got the spot start for the Jayhawks against Northern Arizona in place of Mario Chalmers, who came off the bench.
"Mario was still a little hurt. I was just going to be ready to roll,” Collins said.
Roll, he did. In 23 minutes, Collins had 14 points, including 2-for-4 from behind the arc, three assists and one steal. Ask him to grade himself, however, and he immediately talks about defense.
“I moved my feet more. I made steady plays. I didn’t get caught up in screens – that’s what we worked on a lot in practice. I think I did alright,” he said.
“We had a little spurt during the first half,” he continued. “I was getting up the floor – strong denial, strong help, not letting my man penetrate, blocking out, getting the ball and being ready to run. Getting over screens, and Coach has stressed that all week this week.”
Head coach Bill Self thought Collins did alright, too, but when asked, the coach immediately brought up his work at the other end of the floor.
“(Sherron’s) doing good,” Self said, smiling. “He’s shooting the ball well: 8-for-16 from three (point range) in the three games we’ve played so far this season, which is really good for a freshman. He’s kind of streaky because when he misses, he sometimes misses bad. But I think he’s doing fine. He’s trying real hard.”
Like all college freshmen, though, he’s going to make mistakes, like going to the wrong class on the wrong day or forgetting to study for a quiz. Collins said he’s already made more than his share of mistakes, but it’s all part of being a member of the #3-ranked college basketball team in the country.
“I’ve had a lot of freshman moments,” he said, laughing. “Sometimes I think I’m open and I’m not and I shoot the ball, or sometimes I make the wrong pass or get caught up in screens – stuff you don’t have to worry a lot about in high school – but I’m just learning, trying to get through as much as I can right now. But today, I think I did a little bit better.”
While some three-sport recruits (basketball, football and baseball) might worry about not getting enough of the limelight and not being the floor leader, Jayhawk fans don’t need to worry about this McDonald’s All-American looking to come in and “Collins-ize” the situation. It takes some of the pressure off when you play for a team like Kansas with so many players with good handles, he said.
“That’s how all of us are: just get the ball and run. It doesn’t matter who touches it, just get up the floor. Anybody can have the ball at any time. Everybody knows the offensive sets and plays, so we just get into it and just run and try and execute right off the bat.”
He’s also read the gospel according to Self, chapter and verse, when it comes to being a “little.”
“Coach wants us to push the ball so our big men can get a chance to seal inside,” Collins said. “A guard can be a guard anytime, but we’ve got to push it and get our big men going.”
Coach Self couldn’t have said it better.
And although playing in Allen Field House can be a bit overwhelming – “I never imagined nothin’ like this, ever” – Collins has found a nice groove on the floor.
“From the first basket, it gets loud and you just get going right off the bat. That first basket calms you down,” Collins said. “Your teammates are helping you, Coach (Self) is talking to you, saying, ‘You’ve got to get going, got to win a game.’”
“Julian and Brandon, we talk all the time. We do everything together. We just played in the game together and we’ll probably play some video games back in the room together. They’ve just been like big brothers to me,” Collins said.
It seems the prized guard recruit from Illinois is very comfortable with his decision to come to KU. But with two very solid performances early in the season, does Bill Self have a guard controversy on his hands? When Mario Chalmers’ toe is better, who rides the bench?
“Sherron’s playing good, but over time, he’s got to beat out somebody, and he hasn’t done that overtime. He’s played good in the games and everything, but when Mario gets back healthy, unless something changes, I would anticipate Mario moving back into that position and bringing Sherron off (the bench). Sherron’s going to have to do it over time, and he hasn’t outplayed any of those three guys (Chalmers, Robinson or Rush) over the course of the entire camp we’ve had so far. He may do it but he’s not quite ready yet.”
Don’t look for a controversial answer from Collins, either. He’s just happy to be here.
“I ain’t looking to stay in the starting lineup. I mean, I’m not looking to get out or stay,” Collins said, matter-of-factly. “Whatever Coach rolls with, I’m going to be ready to roll with it.”
Sounds like a young man who’s growing up.