Meeting the Challenge

The caption under the photo says "J.D. Collins" but it might just as easily read "Warrior".

West Virginia's gritty, tough and talented point guard forever seems to be taking on challenges that aren't in proportion to his listed five foot ten inch height, but he usually comes through with flying colors. That's par for the course for a player that has always battled the perception that he's too short to be an effective performer.

"With the way I've grown up, I was always tough. As a kid playing football, I was a defensive back, and I've always been aggressive," Collins said while preparing for a recent practice.

Anyone who has watched Collins take a charge at the back of WVU's 1-3-1 zone defense or hit the floor in pursuit of a loose ball can attest that toughness and personal resilience is an integral part of the floor general's makeup. What they may not know is that he is also battling a painful foot condition.

"It's called plantar fasciitis, and it's like a knot on the bottom of your foot," Collins explained. "They try to massage it out and work it out, and hopefully get it to go away, but I don't think I will be able to rest it [with the season coming up]. My feet hurt a lot, but I just play through it. When I think about it, it hurts more. It makes it seem like there's more pain that what there really is.

"They say the treatment helps, and it feels a little better," Collins continued with a wry smile that suggests the relief is limited at best. "I've been getting electrical stimulation on it."

In addition to that physical challenge, Collins also is undergoing what seems to be the annual effort to unseat him from his starting point guard spot. That's not something coming from the coaching staff, but rather from observers of the program, who for the last two seasons have latched onto a true freshman and tried to elevate him into Collins' spot.

Last year, it was scoring sensation Tyler Relph, who apparently became disenchanted with the Mountaineer program when he discovered he would be required to play defense and would not be permitted to jack up 30 shots per game. This year, it's Darris Nichols, who, while fitting in much better with the Mountaineer scheme, is still very short on experience.

To Nichols' credit, he has accepted those challenges in stride.

"That goes on with every team in America. People like to point it out, because it gives them something to talk about. I don't have a problem with it. Everyone will get their chance to play, and it's what they do with it that's important. I can't play the whole game, so he has to play some to."

Those are well-reasoned views, and ones that demonstrate Collins' cool demeanor. That unruffled view is one of his strengths on the court, where he runs the Mountaineer offense and protects the ball as if it were the Hope Diamond. It also shows his growing awareness as a leader.

"Since I have a lot of experience, it's my duty to help out and be an extension of the coach on the court," Collins said. "We have some upperclassmen that aren't very vocal on the court, so we need some people to step up, and I guess I am one of those people. It's part of my persona, and I don't mind talking, so I think that's always been a part of me.

"Most of the teams I have been on, I've been a team captain or a leader, and it's the same on this team. Sometimes I am a little laid back, but in the heat of the battle I can be pretty loud."

That leadership also extends to helping Nichols, the newcomer who is trying to cut into Collins' minutes.

"On the court, if he's running a play, I might tell him ‘Get right there', as he's doing it," Collins said of the help he tries to extend to his protégé. I know that it's hard to both play and learn the plays at the same time, if you know what I'm saying. I went through it, so I know what it's like. If I can help him, it's going to make it smoother."

That might seem to be something of a Catch-22. The more Collins helps his understudy, the more likely that Nichols can press him for playing time. However, in his role as a leader, Collins knows that better preparation today will equal more wins during the year. And that's a challenge that he'll likely conquer as well.

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