Playground legends, in fact and fiction, have the greatest nicknames. Ice, SkyLab, The Goat, Black Jesus, White Jordan, and the best of all, Tick Tick Boom. When he released his shot he'd say, "Tick, Tick," and when it swished through the net, he'd add "Boom."
Some playground legends head off to college and play on television. A precious few even make it to the NBA after that. Others go to Europe to make enough money to delay entering the rat race. Some return to the playgrounds to try to take back the court.
All it takes is one flaw for the NBA evaluators to look elsewhere. It doesn't take them long to label players, usually quite accurately, and often with a disdainful tone: "'Tweener. ... Flat shooter. ... Who's he going to guard in the NBA? Name one player he can guard. ... Short arms. ... First step isn't quick enough."
Anthony Collins, Kansas University's massive, personable left tackle, loved to play basketball back in his hometown of Beaumont, Texas, even though he didn't project as a Division I player in that sport. Finally, his friends talked him into playing football in time for him to play his senior year. He's on a path to the NFL. Yet, in a survey in the KU football media guide about what he liked best about football, Collins said, "nothing."
"That's right," Collins said when asked about that. "Nothing. I was always a basketball player. When my friends told me I had a chance to make some money in football, then I was interested."
First came scholarship money. Collins credits former KU assistant coach Earnest Collins, now working for University of Central Florida, with recruiting him to Kansas, which he chose over Iowa State.
Doesn't Collins' story make you wonder how many other basketball players could make a living in football, the way Antonio Gates has for the San Diego Chargers? Gates starred in the NCAA Tournament for Kent State, but did not play college football.
Watching KU power forward Darnell Jackson play, it's difficult not to picture him in pads and a helmet. Yet, the thought of him catching passes or rushing the quarterback never was more than a fantasy until the tackle friends call "A.C." was asked if ever wondered how many others could make the switch he made.
"Darnell Jackson," Collins answered quickly. "We're good friends and I always tell him he's got to play football. He'd be a great defensive end or tight end. He's mobile. He came in big and shed a lot of pounds to get faster. If he gained that weight back and put on some more muscle, he'd be ready to be a defensive end or a tight end. But the thing about football is it takes a lot of heart to play football."
Who displays more heart on the basketball court than Jackson?
"Yes, he does," Collins agreed. "If he could bring that to football, he could do it."
Jackson can't afford to think yet about how he projects as a football player yet.
Fortunately for the football team, Collins made the switch in high school, and because of that, finding someone to rush the passer is the most important search for the Jayhawks. Without Collins, finding someone to protect the passer's blind side would overshadow that need.