Knoxville, Tenn. It took a 33-point explosion against Cornell for the college basketball world to start shouting about Sherron Collins, but the evidence shows that he already had been playing the best basketball of his career.
Collins arrived at Kansas from Crane Tech High in Chicago as a hard-to-guard, 5-foot-11 ball of fury, a combination of relentlessness quickness and strength. He’s added a great deal of polish to his game and has worked himself into the best shape of his life.
He’s averaging 15.1 points per game, down from 18.9 a year ago, a sign that he puts a premium on what’s best for the team each game, not on individual glory. The addition of Xavier Henry and the improvement of Marcus Morris have eased the scoring burden on Collins. Plus, he hasn’t needed to score in the blowout victories, but when others couldn’t finish at the hoop against Cornell, he knew he had to take over.
Collins is posting career-best numbers in most categories, including assists-to-turnover ratio (2.23-to-1), steals (1.5), field goal percentage (.484), three-point percentage (.418) and free throw percentage (.837).
He has battled knee troubles off and on throughout his career, but it’s clear he’s healthy now, based on how quick his first step is and how much spring he displays when finishing drives.
He also battled weight problems earlier in his career, but he looks more fit than ever. Plus, the team’s improved depth will allow him more rest during games and make him fresher at closing time, when he will have the ball in his hands.
Collins has matured emotionally as a player as much as physically during his time at Kansas.
“I think I’m a lot smarter, know the game a little bit better, know when to pick my spots better, when to attack, when not to attack,” he said. “Instead of making easy plays, I was trying to hit home run plays. I didn’t understand how important it was to get the ball reversed, play in and out, stuff like that.”
The senior’s smartest decision at Kansas was to stay four years. A year ago, NBA scouts had their doubts, watching Syracuse’s Johnny Flynn and Arizona’s Nic Wise get the better of him. Collins’ stock is climbing.
When asked to name a couple of basketball players who blend quickness and strength in a manner similar to him, Collins mentioned Flynn (averaging 14.3 points and 3.9 assists for the Minnesota Timberwolves) and Will Bynum (averaging 12.1 points and 4.3 assists for the Detroit Pistons), who preceded him at Crane.
Collins takes on the role of villain today in Thompson-Boling Arena, 16th-ranked Tennessee’s home court. In last season’s 92-85 victory against the Vols in Allen Fieldhouse, Collins totaled 26 points, nine assists and five rebounds.
Tenneessee has a lot going for it today, including a big, loud home crowd and pressure-free karma, based on few expecting an upset because the host school has just six scholarship players activated for the game.
The Vols won’t have their best player. Forward Tyler Smith was run from the team after a New Year’s Day arrest on drug and weapons charges. Kansas will have its best player and he’s playing better than ever. Advantage KU.