Tall Expectations

Bill Self certainly has high expectations for Sherron Collins this year. In preseason, the KU coach was even talking about Collins and first-team All-American honors in the same breath.

“He’s going to be a guy that will have multiple games this year where he’ll get over 20 shots a game off,” Self said. “If that’s the case, he’s got to be in unbelievable shape. For him to be a first-team All-American, he’s going to have to clip off close to 20 shots a game.”

If KU’s first two games are any indication, Sherron Collins is on his way to All-American glory. And he’s not even come close to clipping off 20 shots a game. Collins is averaging 20.5 points on just 12.5 shots per game entering Monday’s game (9 p.m.) against Washington at the Sprint Center in Kansas City in the semifinals of the CBE Classic. He’s shooting a sizzling 60 percent from the field (15-25 FG) and 50 percent beyond the arc (5-10) in 33 minutes per game.

And how about his shooting in KU’s two exhibition games, where he averaged 22 points while ripping the nets at 71.4 percent (15-21 FG).

The sophomore point guard certainly looks in midseason form and become quite an efficient scorer.

“Coach wants me to take 18 or 20 shots a game,” Collins said. “I don’t really count my shots or pay attention to them. I’m just hot right now, everything’s falling.”

Collins blistered the nets for a career-high 25 points in KU’s 85-45 victory over Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday night in Allen Fieldhouse. He was 9 of 14 from the field and 4 of 6 from three-point range. He even scored 18 points in a dominating first half.

Thus far, Collins looks in complete control on the court and dazzling Jayhawk fans with a variety of breathtaking shots and moves. In the waning seconds of the first half against FGCU, Collins dribbled the ball passed the top of the key while waiting for the last shot. He seemingly toyed with the defender, did a deadly Tim Hardaway-like crossover dribble, and then penetrated the lane before making a wispy pass to freshman Quintrell Thomas, who got fouled and made both charities.

When he wasn’t penetrating the lane, Collins was taking step-back jumpers, driving the baseline for a reverse left-hand layup, or taking a few hard dribbles before making a running eight-foot leaner off the board.

The Chicago native has the total package. Self just wants his teammates to do a better job of helping Collins score so he doesn’t have to do it all alone.

“Sherron’s fine,” Self said after the Florida Gulf Coast game. “But we’re still not helping. He got 25 but we didn’t help him. We got to be able to free him up in different ways. Our staff needs to do a better job and I need to do a better job of getting our guys to understand the different spots on how we want him to score.

“Right now, he’s good. He’s confident and we got to play to that. Certainly our guys should play through Cole (sophomore center Aldrich) and Sherron. When we understand that and when we understand how we pick out spots and are still aggressive and looking to give those guys at least a chance to score in different areas, then we’ll get a lot better offensively.”

Freshman guard Travis Releford, for one, knows Collins is the go-to player.

“Sherron is the best player on the team,” Releford said. “Coach has been telling us about getting him shots, getting him open looks and just playing together as a team.”

Watch Collins play right now and you notice a difference than previous years. He’s smiling more, laughing more on the court, and having fun. After suffering through constant injuries his first two seasons, Collins is finally injury free and in great shape.

“I’m 100 percent. Nothing is bothering me,” Collins said. “I’m 100 percent and just happy to be there. It’s a big relief, it feels good. I’m kind of speechless about my health at this time. Knock on wood. I just pray I stay this way.”

And you can bet he’ll keep on smiling.

“That’s my personality,” Collins said. “I like to smile. I think if I’m having a bad game, I got to keep (smiling). If I start to give bad body language and pouting out there, it follows over. I try to keep a smile and stay positive.’

He wants to stay positive and get his teammates involved in the game.

“Coach pretty much gives me the freedom to get my own shot and do what I want,” said Collins, “but I try sometimes to get my teammates going because I  know I’m going to get going. I’m not really rushing to shoot the ball.”

But when Collins does unleash his offense, watch out. He’s become a more dangerous scorer this season.

Take that new step-back jumper that’s given NBA scouts much to rave about this early season.

“That was something I worked on,” Collins said. “Coach (Joe) Dooley did a really great job with me this summer trying to get different moves because I have to score in different ways and do a lot of different things. There’s just different things I worked on all summer.’

Self has certainly noticed Collins’ work. He’s quite happy with Collins and how he’s become a true leader for the defending national champions.

Not to mention having the most fun of his college career.

"I think he just feels better about himself, in large part because his body doesn't hurt,” Self said. “He’s gone through a lot of stuff since he's been here. But he does look good out there to me. His mindset is good, and he knows he has a great responsibility with everybody here, and he’s liking the responsibility.

“I'm very pleased with him because he's doing all the things you would expect the leader of a team to do. When you do those things, you feel better about yourself. I think it will continue. He’s focused. I see him getting on guys one possession. I see him praising them the next. He’s got a good balance going on right now.”

With KU prepared to hit the Sprint Center against Washington on ESPN Monday and then either Florida or Syracuse on Tuesday night in the finals or consolation game, the nation will get their first look and the new and improved Sherron Collins.

Collins could soon become the darling of the national media and mentioned in the same breath with some of the nation’s best point guards like Ty Lawson (North Carolina), Darren Collison (UCLA) and Steph Curry of Davidson.

Heck, he may become the best point guard in the country and a first-team All-American if he continues his scorching shooting.

“That would be nice to be recognized as that,” Collins said. “I think I work hard and I think I’m a solid point guard. But I don’t worry too much about those accolades because I got a lot of stuff going on here and I got to lead a group of young guys.

“There’s not too much time to look at all that.”

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