All Eyes On Me
This article appears in the November 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
When a high school athlete climbs to the same pinnacle as Crane Tech senior point guard Sherron Collins, his worst enemy can be doubt.
With the eyes of a city or even a nation upon him, a player like Collins must, at some point, contend with the fear of under-performing because expectations have been raised to such dizzying heights. Right?
Not if you just block all that garbage out, says Collins.
"Doubt? Here's how I deal with doubt: I don't let it creep its way in," says the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Collins, who's rated the nation's No. 1 point guard and No. 8 overall recruit in the Class of 2006 by SchoolSports.com. "I trust in my teammates. If I'm not doing everything I'm capable of on any given night, I find a way to get my teammates more involved. I don't pay attention to the expectations as long as the team gets a W."
That's a refreshing outlook. Particularly for a young man who's expected to put his personal stamp on the basketball world every time he steps on the court. Understanding just how special a player we're dealing with is a subject Crane Tech head coach Anthony Longstreet is all too happy to educate us in.
"His ability to elevate his game when he's challenged is second to none," says Longstreet, 46, who enters his 11th season this winter with a career record of 211-77. "From the level he's already at, he just hits this button or switch and all hell breaks loose. He's one of the best I've ever seen — the best athlete to come through Chicago in the last 30 years. He can play college ball right this moment."
Collins isn't in such a position because he's flat-out dominant. He doesn't make the usually short-on-praise Longstreet gush because he's a one-man show. And he isn't great because he's overbearing on the court.
Collins is great because he's adaptable.
"Yeah, that comes naturally," says Collins, who averaged 22 points, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals per contest during his junior season and has committed to play his college ball at Kansas. "I came here as a freshman and played with guys like (DePaul forward) Lorenzo Thompson and (Toledo forward) Tino Valencia. I learned from the beginning there are a lot of options out there. This year, I'm going to see a lot of double-teams, and there are a lot of options to get away from that, including playing off the ball and moving without the ball to get open. You have to adapt."
Fact is, Crane's fortunes this winter depend on Collins' adaptability. The Cougars enter this season with a 68-18 record since Collins joined the regular backcourt rotation as a freshman. Last year's 23-7 squad lost in the quarterfinals of the Class AA state tournament, while Crane went 19-10 when Collins was a sophomore after going 26-1 and winning the Chicago Public League title when he was a freshman.
"Our success will be based on how well Sherron handles what they throw at him this year," says Longstreet, a former three-sport athlete at Crane. "Whether they throw a box-and-one at him or a run-and-jump (along the baseline) or double-team him, we're confident that he's confident enough to acquiesce to whatever it is a defense wants to do and turn it into a positive on our end."
Like his favorite player, Allen Iverson, Collins has learned to possess that confidence. Just as he learned to keep his intensity from becoming an on-court obstacle.
"The best advice I've ever gotten is, ‘Don't get too frustrated out on the court,'" says Collins, who shot 60 percent from the field, 65 percent from 3-point land and 77 percent from the free-throw line last year. "Don't do or say anything that might impact the way people see you. You're always being watched, so keep your head and keep playing or you can hurt yourself and hurt the team."
He has also learned to accept the sacrifices that come with being an elite player and do so without a second thought. That lesson came from his family. His father, Steve Collins, was once a highly recruited hoop prospect who starred at South Shore and St. Joseph. But that early promise was not fulfilled because "he didn't make the right decisions," according to Collins.
History isn't likely to repeat itself.
"I know I'm striving for something and trying to get somewhere," says Collins, whose older brother, Steven, is a point guard at Bakersfield College in California. "It isn't a big deal to give up other stuff."
Or to put in the hours to develop new stuff. Like his mid-range jumper.
On a daily basis this past summer and fall, Collins stood at the top of the key on the basketball court and received passes from a willing helper, who would simultaneously shout a direction for Collins to break toward before launching jumpers on the move.
Lest there be any confusion, this is simply fine-tuning. For starters, Collins is an exceptional athlete much like Iverson. In his first season of organized football last fall, Collins set a Chicago Public League record for receiving yards in a game by tallying 250 against Carver. He's playing his second and last season of football this fall.
On the hardwood, Collins is equally explosive. But he is controlled combustion.
He attacks the open floor on the dribble, gobbling up great spans of court with long, fluid strides. His angles of attack — especially on his coast-to-coast trips — are visionary and simply destroy transition defenses as opponents scramble to keep up. He's deadly from well beyond the arc with his 3-point shot, but don't think at 5-foot-11 he can't back you down, because he will post up effectively with enough space.
"How does he do his damage?" says Longstreet. "It all depends on how the defense challenges him. He can go to the rack with either hand, pull up, spot up. He sees the floor extremely well, and he has a knack for making big plays."
The way Collins tells it, the need to get this good — the need to become the kind of player who makes such big plays — was also learned.
"At different points in my basketball career, I've thought the game was becoming easier," says Collins. "Then I realize I've got something new to learn. When I was a sophomore, we had a rough season. We lost 10 games. It was on my head and shoulders to make that team better and to get better. I didn't want to keep losing, so I had to get better."
And he did. No doubt.