Even a place as charming as Allen Fieldhouse has some very difficult jobs under its roof. The people who have to clean the bathrooms, for example. Had that job in college. Don’t want it again.
The referee who makes a 50-50 call and feels the six glaring eyes of Danny Manning, Joe Dooley and Kurtis Townsend burning into him doesn’t always have it so easy.
The clean-up crew had to pull a double shift Tuesday, tidying up the place in the afternoon in the wake of one of the most memorable Kansas women’s basketball games, a 76-55 victory carried by ESPN and made special by elementary-school children who brought the place alive with shrill cheers timed in such a way as to reveal they have a great understanding for what they’re watching.
Back to work they went after the men overmatched Florida Gulf Coast, 85-45.
Tough jobs, but no match for the nearly impossible task of trying to guard Sherron Collins. A series of players from Gulf Coast was assigned the duty and fell like dominoes.
A pit bull of a point guard, Collins has a similar build to former heavyweight champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier, but he has some Muhammad Ali to his game. His three-point shots float like a butterfly into the net, and his drives to the hoop sting like a bee. His chin-up confidence recalls Ali’s.
Follow the bouncing ball and count the ways Collins reached 25 points. He made four of six shots from behind the now-longer arc. That’s 12 points. He made all three free throws. That’s 15. In the order of most memorable two-point field goals, a hard dribble left, followed by a hard dribble right, followed by a soft jumper while the defender battles vertigo, asking himself, “Did that really just happen?” It did. A quick dribble from the right wing through traffic, a high elevation. Too bad Bill Raftery wasn’t there to call it, “with the kiss.” A blink-and-you missed it drive and a creative finish off the glass with the left hand. A hard drive to the bucket finished with the left hand after a Tyshawn Taylor steal and pass. A mid-range jumper, just in case you didn’t think he had that trick in his bag. That’s 25 on just 14 shots from the field.
I asked Collins how he thought he would do if he had to guard himself. He laughed thinking about it and gave an honest answer.
“I don’t know, we’d both probably have 25,” he said.
The only player on the roster who played more than four minutes in the 45-minute national-title game, Collins carries a heavy load. He embraces the challenge, but coach Bill Self would like to see newcomers relieve some of the burden on Collins and center Cole Aldrich by making their points come more easily. He has made it clear that the players who best understand the offense must run through the two veterans move to the head of the class, as do those who yearn to take the toughest defensive assignments to spare KU’s two best players.
Yet, if Collins is stressed out, he doesn’t show it. Playing basketball so well requires hard work, but the athletes who do it best tend to be the ones who show why they are called basketball players, not workers. Collins smiles often on the court.
“If I start getting bad body language, pouting out there, the whole team will follow,” he said. “So I just try to keep a smile, even if I’m having a bad game.”