Toughness Personified

One of the indelible images of WVU's 2004-05 basketball season was the Mountaineers' littlest warrior encased in ice, wraps and tape following postseason games.

That player, of course, was J. D. Collins, who treated his body with so much disdain that he sometimes conducted post game interviews while lying stretched out on the floor. At times, Collins had enough ice on him to cover the needs of the entire Blue Lot on a football Saturday. There didn't seem to be anything that wasn't hurt, at one time or another, during West Virginia's eight March Madness games.

Collins credits, or blames, the gridiron, or what passed for one in his neighborhood, for his approach to hoops.

"That comes from my football background," he said about his fearlessness and toughness on the court, which often results in contusions, sprains, strains and just about any other bang-up you can name. "Growing up, we played football on the concrete, and we played tackle, so I have to credit that. It was pretty tough."

‘Pretty tough' would seem to be a bit of an understatement for playing tackle on a paved surface, but Collins, a cool customer both on and off the court, talks about it matter-of-factly. He does the same about his myriad injuries, viewing them as a minor nuisance.

"Basketball is a rough sport too," he said when comparing it to his boyhood football games. "You have to be able to take pain. Whenever you get hurt you have to bounce up, toughen up and get going."

Collins did that so many times last year that they begin to blur in the memory, but one incident stands out. His headlong dive for a ball in the second half of the Louisville game resulted in a huge collision with a Cardinal opponent near midcourt and left him stunned on the floor for several moments. However, true to his word, the gritty Texan shook off the effects of the blow and returned to play with his normal verve, nearly propelling the Mountaineers into the Final Four.

With a new season just a little more than two weeks away, Collins said that he has recovered from most of the injuries of the spring.

"I'm feeling good," he said with a slight smile. "It was a bumpy year last year, but I had a lot of time off so I'm ready to go."

One item that still remains on his malady list is a stubborn case of plantar fasciitis. This painful inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thin layer of tough tissue supporting the arch of the foot, causes many patients to undergo weeks, if not months, of complete rest and treatment. Collins, however, won't even bring it up unless questioned about it specifically, viewing it in the way others might treat a minor cut.

"It still hurts some," Collins said, belying his earlier statement about feeling good. "I don't think it will feel any better until it gets broken up, and I don't have it broken up yet. It's just a little pain, but once I get running and run through it I stop feeling it."

‘Just a little pain' is a relative term, of course, but for Collins, who's used to pingponging back and forth along the baseline in WVU's 1-3-1 defense while giving up 50 or 60 pounds to his opponents, it's probably just another speed bump on the obstacle course of his collegiate career. His outstanding defense, which goes unnoticed by many observers, was one of the keys to West Virginia's successful season, and will be again as the Mountaineers try to duplicate last year's results.

As a senior, Collins will also, more than ever, be looking to pass on his storehouse of accumulated knowledge to his young teammates. He believes his backup, Darris Nichols, is coming along nicely, and will continue to improve, especially in that tough spot on the bottom of the 1-3-1.

"Darris did a great job on it last year – he just needs to get more physical down there and not let the big guys back him up," Collins observed. "He'll get that with time. It took me a while – you have to be tough down there and he has the toughness in him."

While that statement is true, it will probably be a long time before Mountaineer fans see someone as tough as Collins in a West Virginia uniform again – and not just the basketball version. Pound for pound, he's one of the most physical athletes ever to don the Gold and Blue, and he has never let anything – injury or illness – keep him from giving his absolute best on the floor. His ability to play through not only pain, but injury, and do so at a high level, has been remarkable.

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