What It's All About

Senior Night belonged to Sherron Collins and he and his teammates came up with a big win against an in-state rival but in the process the 'Hawks showed the world what college hoops is about.

College basketball gets its fair share of bad press thanks to the cutthroat world of recruiting, NCAA rules violations, eligibility controversies, and the criticism over being a quick fix farm system for the NBA. But every once in awhile a story comes along that shows you what college athletics should be about and when it does you have to tell it.

Sure on Wednesday night Kansas took out an in-state rival and a top five ranked team by a 17–point margin. Yes, it was impressive that in a first half where KU's top two (Cole Aldrich two points, Sherron Collins 8 points) went a combined 2-11 from the floor others again stepped up. By the time the final buzzer sounded with the Jayhawks on top Collins and Aldrich had done their fair share to contribute during a critical second half run. But this was again, a total team win where every player that stepped on the court contributed to this victory over a tough K-State squad. That's Kansas and how the Jayhawks have built up a stout 28-2 record this season.

Tears shed over Sherron Collins' farewell performance, the normally stoic Brady Morningstar sobbing, the big fella Cole Aldrich letting it all go. That's Kansas too.

But what you don't see on TV is what goes on behind the scenes. Nothing can replace watching Collins interact with teammates, coaches, family, and fans over the last few days. Call it the final college basketball experience and it was one Sherron didn't want to end.

"I try not to think about it but I just get reminded everyday so it was hard not to think about it. I couldn't run from it wish I could. I wish I had more time to play here but its gotta end," Collins admitted two days before his last game.

The tearful "farewell" was inevitable but along the way Sherron did his best to soak it all in. At practice Tuesday, he took the business-like approach leading like he always does. He was again the extension of the staff on the floor instructing Markieff Morris about his defensive positioning. On Wednesday, he walked on the floor and made his way over to the student section where the "shrine to Sherron" was spread across the front railings. He smiled and soaked it in. He spent quality time before shootaround talking to Sports Illustrated writer and CBS College Basketball analyst Seth Davis. He smiled and smiled some more.

In fact, he smiled all the way up until he walked out onto the floor with his Uncle and his mom and raised his jersey proudly above his head. Then the tears flowed and he could no longer escape the emotion. Neither could his teammates. The outpouring was real as Sherron buried his head into the chests of his teammates and coaches countless times on this night.

"He's like a big brother. It's going to be tough not seeing him next year," an emotional Markieff Morris said after the game.  

Sherron will remember the 23 points he put up against Missouri his freshmen year proving to everyone including himself he could score at this level, and his Senior Night speech.  Yes, he'll also recount all those championship trophies on display during his speech that he collected in between. It was a fine idea by the KU basketball family to send Sherron off with a fitting exhibit for a player who was all about winning and competing.

"That was a lot of hardware that was sitting there at half court that he has been a part of winning," Self agreed.

His teammates were intent on sending him out with a bang and Collins wanted so desperately to produce in his last Fieldhouse appearance. It was a lot to contend with for all involved. Collins admitted he came out of the gate "jittery" and took some uncharacteristic shots shooting just 1-9 from the floor in the first half.

"Sherron (Collins) couldn't make a basket in the first half. He took some bad shots that led to baskets for K-State," Self recalled.

"I wanted to do so good in my last game. Coach got on my case a little bit about shooting quick shots and shooting guarded shots. Couple of bad shots but coach just told me ‘you gotta relax' at halftime – ‘you gotta relax and play your game' and I just took a couple of deep breaths and had a little pep talk to myself at halftime," said Collins

"I should've told him that after the first timeout," Self remarked. I told him to be honest your bad shots lead to baskets for them. Second half he took a shot early that led to a runout and then after that I thought he really played with poise and controlled the game. He drove the ball to get where he wanted to go as opposed to just settling."

"The way it ended was perfect," said Collins with a smile. "My teammates did a great job. I think they just wanted to send me off with a win and it was perfect."

What changed Sherron over the course of his career wasn't any one bounce of the basketball. It was the life experiences. As a 12th grader KU assistant Kurtis Townsend said he could never have imagined Sherron saying to him "Coach, I think I'm going to cry like a baby" back in the day. Very little affected Collins before but that is no longer the case.

"Learning to care for a place somewhere you put all your emotions into," said Collins taking his time reflecting. "You sweat everyday, shed blood, shed tears with your teammates, with your coaches, you just learn to love a place like this you can't NOT love a place like this. That being said it is just so emotional it tells you this place is always in my heart so it was hard not to cry."

As the years go by he'll recall the personal moments he shared with teammates and coaches, and fans during his four-year stint.

He'll remember the relationship he built with Coach T (Kurtis Townsend) who was responsible for the majority of Sherron's recruitment. After four years of a relationship that can certainly be labeled "tough love" he and Self have had their ups and downs but Sherron will remember the "I love ya" shared with his head coach on this special night.

"It meant the world. He's told me a few times but nothing meant more than tonight," Collins said.

He'll remember Brady and the Morningstar family taking him in and helping him adjust from big city Chicago to small town Lawrence.

"I walk in my room and I see Brady and I'm like ‘oh my God I'm definitely not going to make it," chuckled Collins while recounting the early days at KU. "I went to the Morningstar's house. They helped me get over my fear of dogs they just treated me like a family like one of their own. Me and Brady have been the closest seriously like brothers, and that's how I'll always look at him and his family, like family."

"He means a lot to a lot of people in that lockerroom that was pretty evident by Brady. Brady cried more than he did," Self said referring to the tears shared by Morningstar after the game and during the pre-game ceremony.

He'll remember the conversations he had with Cole Aldrich about coming back and trying to win a second national title, a decision to come back to school that Sherron says was "50 percent Cole". Together he and Aldrich have been the leaders of this team and their embrace with 30 seconds left as Sherron was about to leave the floor at the Phog for the last time was fitting.

"He's one of those guys it might've been his last home game you know probably it was," said Collins referring to Aldrich's likely jump to the NBA after his junior season. "It just means so much to him. We carry the load, shoulder the team all the time and that's our job. It meant so much to us out there it meant so much to Cole and him sending me off with a win meant the most to him."

Sherron holds the Lawrence community close to his heart and labeled his time here like a "vacation"- a place you never want to leave. He's been overwhelmed since day one by the outpouring of support he's received and the open arms he was welcomed with.

He'll proudly reflect on leaving Lawrence an even better man than when he arrived.

"Another thing that is great, as much as he has improved as a man, in May he walks down that hill with all those other graduates," said Self recognizing Sherron being the first in his family to earn a degree.

Self is convinced if Sherron didn't get hurt his sophomore year he wouldn't have stuck around. Collins believes because of the massive amount of post title departures he would've come back no matter what for his junior season. It's debatable and whatever the reason, he stayed.

Self's wife Cindy spoke about how polite and appreciative Sherron has always been saying "thank you" and meaning it every time. The Self's instill a family atmosphere in the program and it permeates through the players. It's tough to explain unless you're around it. Other programs have it too but there's just something that feels even more special at Kansas. Sherron came to Lawrence because of it, he stayed in Lawrence because of it and he leaves with irreplaceable life lessons thanks to it.

Whether he makes it in the NBA remains to be seen. Right now he's projected as a late first round draft pick but would you bet against a winner like Sherron? If the NBA somehow doesn't work out for him thanks to Kansas he will have plenty to rest his laurels on.

This is also why coaches coach. It is exactly the reason it's hard to envision a coach like Self leaving for the professional ranks. You don't get this in the pro ranks. You don't get Cole Aldrich, who likely played his last game, crying uncontrollably after. You don't get the phone call from Collins like Self did saying, "Coach, I don't know where to start" with this speech. Self guided him through a process that would help him accomplish his goals and not forget anyone; once again the coach with Sherron's best interests at heart.  

And yes, there was still time for a few last playful jabs from his head coach. When Self entered the press room reporters were still congregated around Collins and as Media Relations Director Chris Theisen broke them up Self said, "why do you guys want to interview a guy who went 1-9 the first half?" The smile on Collins face widened and a laugh was shared by all in the room and Self followed with "I thought that was funny."

There's so much pressure on winning and not enough attention on the job coaches and their staffs do grooming young men and making an impact in their lives. Self and his entire staff can be very proud of the boy they recruited and the man who will leave campus. An example of what college athletics truly should be about.

Hard not to root for this storybook career to have the perfect ending and that means one more Fieldhouse speech with yet another trophy at his side.

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