Senior Class

Sherron Collins doesn't really want to let go. Not after the best four years of his life at Kansas, not after becoming the winningest player in Jayhawk history, not after maturing as much off the court as any player who's ever donned the crimson and blue.

But on Senior Night against K-State this evening, one of the greatest players in KU annals will say goodbye in his final home game at Allen Fieldhouse.

Sherron Collins knows he can't fight back the tears.

"I try not to think about it, but it is hard not to," he said. "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."

There will be roses and cheers, tears and enduring memories. And there will be love.

Lots of love.

"You can go anywhere and everyone treats you well and everyone shows so much support for KU basketball (regardless) if we win or lose," the 5-11 senior guard said of his experience at KU. "Lawrence is my second home and I don't get homesick at all.

"I love being here."

The fans, his teammates, and the KU coaching staff have loved having Collins here the last four years.

KU coach Bill Self said Collins has made a lasting impact on his life.

"He's meant as much to me as any player I've ever coached," Self said. "I think that's a pretty bold statement because I've had some pretty good ones. I don't know if you can say he means more than (Kirk) Hinrich or (Nick) Collison or Raef (LaFrentz) or Paul (Pierce) or Jacque (Vaughn). But to me personally, I can say that without any hesitation."

From the mean streets of Chicago's West Side, where he grew up in the gang and crime infested neighborhood, Collins came to Kansas nearly four years ago and found a new home, a salvation of sorts, an inner peace he longed for his entire life.

He was a guarded individual when he arrived in Lawrence in 2006, but evolved into a personable, trusting person who's embraced the community and been a role model to children back home in Chicago and throughout the Jayhawk Nation.

Just listen to him speak. Just look at his smile.

"I have broken out of my shell and opened up by being around town and on campus," Collins said. "Now, it just comes natural to me. At home in Chicago you have to keep to yourself in certain places and I think that stuck with me when I came here, but I realized I had to break that."
 
Growing up in Chicago with great adversity and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Collins could have bowed to the peer pressure as a youth and turned the wrong way and mixed with the wrong crowd.

But he didn't.

"I had good people in my corner like my mother and my big brother," Collins said. "My uncle was my father figure and they all helped keep me out of trouble."

Self has great admiration for his senior leader. He calls Collins' rise out of Chicago and maturation at Kansas a "pretty remarkable story."

"I think all coaches have a soft spot in their heart for kids that do it against all odds," Self said. "He came into this situation really needing a place to change his thought process and to mold him into what he could potentially become. And he embraced that."

But like many young men, Collins fought that adjustment for a while when first coming to KU.

Self points at a breakthrough in their relationship.

"The first time I ever had Sherron over to my house," Self said, "it was such a big deal to him because he had never been in an environment like that. And that won me and my wife over immediately. For him to to feel that something so trivial was so important to him, that was something I realized right then that we had something special if he could just stay the course."

While the road has been bumpy at times fighting weight issues and injuries, Collins has stayed the course and flourished both on and off the court. He'll graduate after this semester and become the first male in his family to receive a college degree, silencing some doubters back home in Chicago who told him, "you weren't going to make it or that you weren't good enough."

Donning graduation cap and gown, Collins will walk down the Hill in May with great pride. And Self will be beaming with joy as well.

"I'll be just as proud of him on that day as I will be if we were to play great Wednesday night and for him to have the most memorable night of his life," Self said.

Collins said he's learned many lessons at KU that will last him a lifetime. He "takes things more seriously now and knows how to take care of my responsibilities." Becoming a father has made the most profound impact on his life.

"I think that's what really woke me up," Collins said.

Collins has a son Sherr'mari, who will be 3 in April. And his daughter Sharee' was born in February.

Soon after his first son was born, Collins and Self had a heart-to-heart talk.

"Coach Self told me that everything you do for yourself doesn't matter anymore; it is for your mom and your son now," Collins said. "I really took that to heart. My mother had a tough life working two jobs to support my brother and me. She wanted us to have everything all the other kids had. I owe everything to her. I think it is time for her to rest and I want to be there for my son because my dad wasn't there for me. I talk to my dad a lot now, but he always reminds me to do everything I can to be there for my son and not to make mistakes like he did."

Being a father, student, and basketball player has been a huge balancing act for Collins. He's done all this while being under the microscope at powerhouse Kansas, where Collins faced pressure to live up to his press clippings and hype coming out of Crane High School. Self has constantly pushed him to be the true leader,  player, and student he envisioned when Collins was a high school standout and one of the two best point guards (along with Ty Lawson) in his Class of 2006.

Self and Collins clashed at times. But through their trials has come a mutual respect and love. Self points to one situation where he rode Collins particularly hard.

"I realized then, dear gosh, this kid does care because I was on his butt and I thought there was a chance he may go home and not come back," Self said. "Just to see how he responded to that. I said, ‘hey, we got him because he cares so much more than what we ever dreamed he would care. He's a fighter and he likes it when it's the most challenging. I always respect that about guys. I think all coaches do."

Self said Collins has "been an absolute joy to coach."

"I love everything about him," Self said. "I love the stubbornness. I love the competitive spirit. We've definitely had our moments, but I definitely know at the end of the day, he's going to fight as hard as he can. He's certainly matured himself into quite a young man that will be very successful, regardless if basketball takes him there or not."

He has certainly been a great success on the hardwood. Collins is one of only three Jayhawks (along with Hinrich and Darnell Valentine) to have recorded 1,700 career points and 500 career assists. He ranks as the school's No. 7 all-time leading scorer, just 26 points shy of 1,800  points. Collins is also fourth on KU's career three-point field goals list, seventh in assists, and 20th in steals.

But beyond all the statistics, Collins is the winningest player in school history who does all the intangibles, a true extension of Self on the floor.

"He's the best guard by far that I've coached since I've been here," Self said.

Collins' teammates are also true believers. Just listen to junior center Cole Aldrich.

"He's everything for us," Aldrich said. "He's the pulse of our team, the kind of general that runs everybody. He's just the guy that you want to be that because he's so competitive. He's got a great head on his shoulders. He's a humble kid, but he loves competing."

And Wednesday night, Collins will be competing in Allen Fieldhouse for the final time in his storied career.

You can bet one thing. Just as he's played with great heart the last four years, his senior speech after the game will be straight from the heart.

Collins could do it no other way.

He knows how he'd like the fans to remember him.

"Just winning," Collins said. "A player that tried to win every game, a player that was a fan favorite (who) interacted with the fans, let them know we appreciate them.

"A winning player that left it all out there."

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