Time Winding Down For Collins

Standout senior Sherron Collins has just one home game left. Will the hard-nosed Collins leave with a win and another outright Big 12 title? Phog.net wouldn't bet against number four.

The building will be pumped and chock full of emotion.

Wednesday night Kansas "welcomes" one of its biggest rivals to Phog Allen Fieldhouse and says goodbye to a player who's won more games in the crimson and blue than any other. It will be a time to reflect on Sherron Collins career and what he has meant to the program. It is a night to enjoy the maturation of basketball player and more importantly a young man. It is a night where those in attendance are assured to run the gamut of emotions. But no ones highs and lows are likely to rival those of the lone senior himself.

"I try not to think about it, but it is hard not to," Collins told the media on Monday. "I wish I could run from it, but I can't. I wish I had more time to play here. I am trying to figure out if I am going to cry like a baby after the game, but I try to joke a lot and to stay happy."
 
"He's been an absolute joy to coach," head coach Bill Self proudly stated. "I love everything about him. I love the stubbornness. I love the competitive spirit. We've definitely had our moments but at the end of the day I know he's going to fight as hard as he can each and every day. He has really matured."

Like any kid enjoying the college life Sherron doesn't want it to end. Wednesday he will put on the white jersey and run out of the tunnel for the last time. Number four will captain the ship once again and hopefully steer his fellow Jayhawks to another outright Big 12 title and then he will take the microphone to face his teammates, coaches, and the adoring fans he's loved so much over his four-year stint in Lawrence.

Maybe the loss on Saturday to Oklahoma State was meant to be. After all it left Collins on center stage, his last home game, against a top five ranked rival, playing for one last conference title to call his own. After all, the Crane high school standout has always had a flair for the dramatic. This isn't Hoosiers but it sure has the potential to produce an ending you might see on the silver screen.

It was Collins Saturday post Oklahoma State who stepped up with emotion in his voice and claimed he "didn't have the team ready to play". Collins didn't mince words saying, "I'm the captain. I'm the senior. I should have had us ready to play. It's my full responsibility when the team goes down."

The proclamation was really a microcosm of Collins' career. He's never been afraid to step to the forefront, never shied away from his responsibility as a leader, and has never ran away from taking the big shot. With the game on the line he wants the ball and it's hard not to believe he won't make sure his team is ready against a tough K-State team.

Frank Martin's team comes into town on a seven game win streak knowing all about Collins late clutch play. It was Collins who made the crushing layup when the Jayhawks won in Manhattan 81-79 in an overtime thriller. But KU has to err on the side of caution while trying to write the perfect script for Collins. There is business to take care of and as Self said on Saturday, "one (loss) can't become two," and that is priority number one for his squad.  

"I don't want this to be so much about Sherron or about Senior Night, and he doesn't either," Self told the media. "We can't forget about what we need to do, and that is to beat a top five team and to win the league outright in game 15 of our league race. We want it all to be just perfect, but what gives it a chance to be perfect is not taking our eye of the prize. That is, playing well against K-State."
 
Self can do a lot to control the focus of his team but for the media it IS about Sherron and Senior Night. The national and local media will be writing about what college is supposed to be about. Young kid attends college, matures as a player, person, and father and leaves with a degree in hand. It's almost impossible NOT to write about such a rare success story and Self knew that heading into his weekly news conference.

It was Self and his staff that pursued Collins with vigor until he committed just after a Late Night visit in October of 2005. As a multi-sport standout at Crane in Self's mind Collins was the best point guard available from the class of 2006. Considering former North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson was considered the "other" point guard available it was high praise from Self.

"It was Late Night and there were a couple other recruits with me like Darrell Arthur," said Collins reflecting on his first visit to KU. "I was kind of set on coming here already; it was between Kansas and Illinois, but after Late Night I was sold. I wanted to commit immediately, but my coaches told me to give it a little bit. So instead of committing the first day after Late Night, I committed the second."

"Every time I walked on the court they clapped for me and every time I walked off the court they clapped for me. I didn't even know who they were clapping for and then my coach told me. That sold me right there."

Consider this – according to scout.com the top players available from the class of 2006, in order were Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Kevin Durant, Brandan Wright, Greg Oden, and then Collins. Collins is the only one of the six who remained in school. In fact, if you go even further down the list Sherron is the only player in the top 11 from that talented class on a college campus. In Sherron's mind a four-year college career and a degree were likely not what he envisioned when peering into that crystal ball.

"I guarantee you he didn't come to school here believing he would be here four years," remembered Self. "I guarantee you he didn't come to school here saying ‘I can't wait until I graduate' and ‘I can't wait until senior night'. He came to school here saying ‘I can play ball and move on'. And a lot of kids do that that's the way it is at every school that recruits good players.  But to see how this place has changed him and how he's allowed this place to change him it is a pretty neat story if you really study it."

"I never thought I would graduate from college," admitted Collins. "There were certain people that said `you weren't going to make it or that you weren't good enough'. It was tough, but I had good people in my corner like my mother and my big brother. My uncle was my father figure and they all helped keep me out of trouble. My grandmother and my aunts graduated from college, but I am probably the first male in my family to graduate from college."

"For him to evolve into a guy that saw his degree be so important I think is a great story in itself," Self continued. "I'll be just as proud of him on that day as I will if we were to play great Wednesday night and have the most memorable night of his life which I think it potentially could be."

For the next few days at the least the writers and reporters will study his story and many will ask questions about the future of Collins including whether or not he'll make it at the next level. He draws comparisons to Orlando Magic guard Jameer Nelson - both small in stature, both winners, and both super tough. He may or may not have what it takes on the court (and I wouldn't bet against him) but Sherron certainly has what it takes to be a hit off the court including being a better father.

"I think I became a better person and a better father at KU," said Collins who just became a father for the second time. "I take things more seriously now and I know how to take care of my responsibilities. I am going to take a whole life experience from Kansas, especially from my coaching staff. They have really been father figures to us."

"I told him he's no longer a kid," Self said remembering the conversation he had with Collins the first time he became a father. "The thing about it is when you have the responsibility of being a father life is no longer about yourself. So much of that is what kind of a role model will you be for him down the road? And what do you want your son to look at you and see? I don't know if that had any bearing on him but certainly I think he's spun some negatives into some real positives for him."

The next question we'll hear is "Will jersey number four hang in the rafters someday at KU?" Self told Phog.net little less than a month ago that no matter what KU would wait five years minimum for the ultimate decision – which is a policy of Self's - but Self also said there was a chance Sherron's future would include a return for a very special ceremony.  

"I would say the chances are probably very good," Self reiterated. "The best player on the winningest team ever is probably a pretty good reason why it could be hung up there."

"Coach said something to me about my jersey being retired. I have the most wins here and I have a pretty solid resume. I would like to get my jersey retired. To have my jersey in the rafters with all the greats would mean a lot to me," Collins stated.
 
But where does Collins rank in the hearts of KU fans and the history of this program? Four league titles, two Big 12 Tournament titles, just one home loss in his career, more wins then any other (124), and one national title with the chance to add a second one. The kid is 17-3 in postseason play in his career, astounding numbers. He can't score like Danny Manning, or rebound like Nick Collison, or fire passes like Jacque Vaughn he will not be judged on career points, career assists, or career steals. He will be judged on the one thing every point guard's success should be gauged on – number of wins. That is what the legacy of Sherron Collins at Kansas will be based on.

"You can't really say one player has meant more than another at a program like this because so many players that have been so good.  But I will say this he's meant as much to me as any other player I've ever coached and I think that's a pretty bold statement because I've had some good ones," said Self proudly.

"I don't know if you can say he's meant more than Hinrich, (Nick) Collison, or Raef (LaFrentz), or Paul (Pierce), or Jacque (Vaughn). I don't know if you can say that but to me personally I can say that without any hesitation."

One reporter then asked Self if Collins would be in his all-time starting five at KU.

"I don't think there's been five players that's probably played here who's teams have performed as well as they have in large part because of his performances and leadership," said Self convincingly. "He's had some good players to play with but he hasn't had quite the same number of McDonald's All-Americans to play with as maybe some others have. He's kind of elevated everybody else's performance around him."

And with one last game in Allen Fieldhouse and a chance to clinch another title, extend a home winning streak, and say goodbye in style Sherron has a chance to elevate everyone around him. But the question is will the 5-11 dynamo be able to elevate?

"Everyone wants me to dunk, but two points is two points," said Collins. "I can get up there, but I like to save up my energy. Coach sometimes would like to me dunk to change up the tempo of the game. I might try and dunk coming up."

It's just something else for 16,000+ to possibly look forward to Wednesday night in what will be the most electric atmosphere at Phog Allen this season.

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