Collins Bringing Back Memories

One of the great things about being a Kansas fan is the litany of great players who have come through the program over more than a century. One can't help but look at players and say, "You know, that kid reminds me of…" and then filling in a name.

But you don't just fill in any name. The name is usually that of someone who was pretty darned good. Monday night was another occasion to do just that.

It was fun to see that Tyshawn Taylor took KU coach Bill Self's words to heart – that someone, anyone, other than Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins needed to score some points.

It was Collins, however, who evoked memories of Jayhawk legends past – three in particular.

His leadership reminded me of He of the Thunderous Thighs, a guard from Wichita, Kansas, number 14, Darnell Valentine. When the game got tight and Oklahoma made its run – and with Big 12 officials in the building, you knew they would – Collins wasn't perfect. He committed a couple of silly, out-of-control turnovers, but his head was in the right place.

With just under eight left, Oklahoma had whittled a 17-point KU lead down to 12, and two quick Cade Davis three-pointers from somewhere in Arkansas made it six, 62-56. Meanwhile, Kansas was on their heels and wondering why the clock was running so slowly.

Nevertheless, Collins saw that his team was holding on for dear life and got them back to what built a big lead in the first place: he attacked the basket. That attack mentality was, thankfully, contagious. Even when it didn't result in points, KU suddenly didn't look like deer in headlights anymore.

Then, there were those key threes.

Juan Pattillo's two free throws for OU at the 5:29 mark made the score 66-62. Just 21 seconds later, Collins hit a three-pointer to get the lead back to seven.

Sooner Omar Leary hit a long trey to make it a one-possession game, 71-68, with 3:40 left. But there was Collins again, 28 seconds later, with a three of his own to expand the lead back to six.

Seconds later, Oklahoma's stud frosh Willie Warren decided that he was not going to be outdone and drained a three from some fat lady's lap in the fourth row that cut the KU to three again. That shot looked really clutch until Collins hit the bottom of the net with a jumper from an even fatter lady's lap in the seventh row to make it 77-71.

There were still two-and-a-half minutes left, but it was over. Multiple Sooners had issued multiple long-range challenges, and the gutty junior from Chicago not only answered them all but did it with a hit man's cool. He should carry a violin case into opposing gyms. He did it for the fun of burying that dagger handle-deep in the Big Red's collective backs.

That evoked memories of Paul Pierce's 1998 Senior Night shooting clinic in which he scored 18 straight in the second half to put away another very good Oklahoma team. Granted, the OU coach, awestruck, didn't call a time out to stop the bleeding. The OU coach didn't slap Collins on the ass as he ran by to get to the Kansas bench.

But Pierce's heroics were on familiar James Naismith Court at Jayhawk-friendly Allen Field House. Collins' exploits took place during a conference road game in an arena that fills up twice or three times a year, and the Kansas game is one of them. The game was for control of the Big 12 conference race with just three games to go.

Pierce didn't have to put that team on his shoulders; he had a lot of help from guys like Raef LaFrentz, Billy Thomas and Ryan Robertson.

But Collins had to. Who else could have taken over for Kansas? Who else could've answered all those threes? No other Jayhawk is ready for prime time like Sherron Collins is ready for prime time.

Which brings me to my final point, and I'm happy to put my fat butt out on a very thin limb: no one since Danny Manning has had the necessary combination of willingness, physical gifts, basketball talent and savvy and mental toughness needed to put a Jayhawk team on his shoulders like Sherron Collins did on Monday night. We've seen glimpses of it all season, especially the last couple of weeks. He's averaged 23.3 per and has shot over 60 percent in his last three games. He was named Big 12 Co-Player of the Week last week for his efforts against Iowa State and Corn.

The difference between early season and now is, Sherron Collins is embracing his leadership role. He knows, like the greatest Jayhawk of all knew, that if anyone is going to lead and, when necessary, will this inexperienced squad beyond the tournament's first weekend, it's him.

And if he pulls it off, well, he's in some pretty good company. Top Stories