As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.
In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
We’ll start it off with Nos. 15-11. These former Kansas standouts probably aren’t going to begin trending on Twitter or make many headlines. Still, some will play key roles on playoff-caliber teams.
And one youngster will try to prove he belongs in the league.
No. 15: Darrell Arthur — Denver Nuggets
If Darrell Arthur was a football player, he’d be an interior lineman whose name never gets called on a broadcast. The 6-foot-9 forward just executes his assignments without much flash or fuss, and to the delight of his coaches, rarely makes mistakes.
While the eighth-year veteran from KU is well respected for his reliability and demeanor, coming off the bench for Denver to grab rebounds and successfully defend pick-and-rolls on the perimeter isn’t the most glamorous role in the NBA, and it’s for those reasons that our list begins with Arthur.
At 28, he’s in the prime of his career, and coming off a season in which he produced 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds as a Nuggets reserve playing 21.7 minutes a game.
Arthur is a more valuable piece than some of the other Jayhawks in the league, but it’s just hard to envision fans stopping what they’re doing to tune in to a Denver game for the purposes of keeping up with his career.
No. 14: Nick Collison — Oklahoma City Thunder
Speaking of professionals, few veterans in the NBA are as respected for their dirty work as much as Nick Collison, aka Mr. Thunder. Entering his 13th season with the franchise, Collison’s gray beard hairs might bring him some grief from his much younger teammates, but the backup to Oklahoma City’s backup big men works so hard and knows the league so well that OKC likes to keep him around as a mentor and occasional fill-in.
The 35-year-old played a career-low 11.8 minutes a game last season, and when he does check into games we won’t see Collison do much more than compete for rebounds, takes some charges and dive on the floor. Still, OKC is embarking on its post-Kevin Durant era, and no player on the roster figures to influence how the Thunder go about handling the challenge ahead in the Western Conference, particularly behind the scenes, more than Russell Westbrook and Collison. Oklahoma City keeps Collison around because of what he brings to the locker room and the organization’s culture, but from a viewing standpoint it’s also entertaining to watch NBA old guys outcompete far superior athletes for a few minutes here and there.
No. 13: Jeff Withey — Utah Jazz
The backup 7-footer isn’t expected to play a ton for Utah, a franchise with a sneaky-deep roster which some around the NBA think will propel the Jazz into the playoffs this season, but Jeff Withey could be poised to make more of an impact on the court this season than he has since he left KU in 2013.
Witney has averaged just 11.0 minutes a game in his three professional seasons, but enters the year as the primary backup for Jazz center Rudy Gobert. It should be interesting to see if Withey can make a leap in his production with more opportunities. Per 36 minutes in 2015-16, the reserve center averaged 11.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.
Don’t be surprised to see Withey swats or jams show up on social media or highlights shows, particularly when he plays a key part in the Jazz knocking off some of the more renowned teams in the league.
No. 12: Brandon Rush — Minnesota Timberwolves
A few years ago, going from Golden State to Minnesota would’ve seemed like a penthouse-to-outhouse move for Rush, a ninth-year guard. However, his free-agent signing with the Timberwolves this summer couldn’t have come at a better time. The franchise, built around young stars-in-the-making Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, added one of the league’s best coaches, Tom Thibodeau, as well, in the offseason. The perennial lottery team could jump into the playoffs by season’s end, and the organization should only see more progress from there.
Plus, as thrilling as it must’ve been for Rush to play for the back-to-back West champion Warriors, he could contribute a lot more to a young Minnesota roster than he ever would’ve got a chance to do on Golden State’s star-studded perimeter.
Rush played 21.9 minutes a game for the T’wolves during the preseason, averaged 7.1 points and made 12 of his 20 3-pointers. Between his defensive ability and knack for spotting up behind the arc, Rush projects as a solid complimentary bench player for Minnesota.
No. 11: Cheick Diallo — New Orleans Pelicans
The guy barely played at Kansas. How is he going to get any run in the NBA? Actually, that’s what makes Cheick Diallo’s rookie season so intriguing.
Odds are New Orleans, much like KU coach Bill Self, won’t have much use for the 20-year-old off the bat. The 6-foot-9 big is too raw to be relied upon within a rotation at this point. However, the Pelicans seem to like his energy and down-the-road potential. There will be plenty of nights when Diallo doesn’t even suit up for his new team. When he does get spot minutes, they’ll come late in blowouts most likely.
Without a doubt, Diallo is a longterm project. The months ahead will include the first steps he’ll take toward whatever his career becomes: high-energy role player in the paint, highly-rated prep prospect that never met his full potential or somewhere in between? We’ll have to wait a few years to learn the answer.
Most veterans fortunate enough to have played 12 NBA seasons have bounced around the league, worn an assortment of uniforms and called city after city their new hometown. Stability just doesn’t exist for them.
Former Kansas star Nick Collison hasn’t dealt with such turmoil. The 35-year-old power forward, whose Oklahoma City team is tied with defending champion Golden State, 1-1, in the Western Conference Finals, has played for the organization since he graduated from KU.
In fact, as pointed out in a Q&A with Collison posted on the National Basketball Players Association’s website about him being the “backbone” of the Thunder’s roster, the 6-foot-10 backup big man — drafted by Seattle in 2003, before the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City — is part of a very small group of longtime NBA players who have been with only one organization for at least that long. The others are Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, and San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
A backup veteran can’t be the face of the franchise. But Kevin Durant once called Collison “Mr. Thunder,” a title Collison doesn’t exactly consider his nickname.
“It’s more of almost a joke because I’ve been here so long,” Collison said. “It’s fun to be able to have a lot of shared history with those guys. We’ve got a lot of stories, a lot of inside jokes from all those years together. That’s another cool thing about it: getting to really build friendships with guys.”
Collison said in his NBPA interview he considers himself fortunate to have played with the Thunder (formerly the Sonics) his entire career.
“It’s been a place I’ve wanted to be and they’ve wanted to have me around. I feel like contractually it’s always worked out where we can come to a fair deal, and I’ve liked how I’ve been treated,” Collison said. “I never felt the need to go anywhere else and the way our team has grown, it’s been really fun to be a part of — to be with these guys for a long time when they were younger coming up and having success. And I know that’s really rare in the NBA, to be able to have that continuity and those teammates year after year, especially in today’s NBA with so much movement.”
No longer a player Thunder coach Billy Donovan turns to in crucial moments of a game, Collison still has value to the team just in the way he approaches his job. OKC general manager Sam Presti had that in mind when he signed the forward to a two-year extension last season. At the time, Presti cited Collison’s professionalism as a great example for the entire organization.
While Collison only has played 79 total minutes in the Thunder’s first 13 postseason games this year, it doesn’t change his approach.
“I think I want to always be like an authentic teammate — really try to do whatever I can to help guys out, help the team out,” Collison said in his NBPA interview. “It’s just the way that I’ve been taught to be part of a basketball team. And I think it’s helped me in my career being helpful, being a good teammate. It’s allowed me to last this long.”
Still, Collison shook off the notion that Thunder bigs Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter play well because of him.
The Thunder, led by stars Durant and Russell Westbrook, would have to beat a Golden State team that lost nine games the entire regular season three more times in order to reach the NBA Finals. Without addressing just how difficult that might be, Collison, who played for OKC in the 2012 Finals against Miami, said he sees some similarities in how this season has progressed for OKC, with the Thunder improving as the playoffs go on.
The core players who reached the championship round four years ago, Collison said, can still recall what worked during that run and feed off of that knowledge now.
“There’s a lot of guys who don’t have that experience, but when half the team can bring along the other guys, it really helps,” Collison explained. “Whereas in 2012, we did have some veteran guys, but the guys playing the majority of the minutes were there for the first time. And there’s just certain things that you have to go through.”
• Read the full Q&A at the NBPA website: Nick Collison, “Mr. Thunder,” Reflects on Being Oklahoma City’s Longtime Backbone
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
As the NBA showcases five Christmas Day games, Kansas basketball fans looking to mix in some Jayhawks with their holiday festivities will have a chance to catch a glimpse of as many as seven former KU players.
Here’s a rundown of ’Hawks in the NBA taking the court while most of the country takes the day off.
Chicago at Oklahoma City — featuring Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison
If you love veteran role players and stars from Roy Williams’ last years at KU, well, you better send the NBA a thank-you note for this present. Both Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison will get some national air-time Christmas afternoon (1:30, ABC) when Hinrich’s Bulls play at Collison’s Thunder (though most promos for the game probably feature Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook).
Now 34 years old, Hinrich plays a backup role for Chicago (15-11) and averages just 16.2 minutes a game. But this is his 11th season playing for the Bulls, the team that drafted him seventh overall in 2003. As pointed out recently by SI.com, the veteran 6-foot-4 guard now leads the franchise in career 3-pointers (1,040) and ranks third all-time in games played (730). The only Bulls who have played more games for Chicago are Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Hinrich also sits third all-time in steals (853) and assists (3,779) for Chicago — again, behind Jordan and Pippen — and eighth in points (8,486).
“The young guys, they’re joking all the time, ‘Did you play with Bill Cartwright?’” Hinrich told SI.com.
More of a facilitator and defender these days, Hinrich’s best game of the season so far came in November, when Rose was injured and he played 34 minutes. Hinrich scored 17 points and helped limit reigning MVP Steph Curry to 3-for-11 shooting.
“He’s a guy that goes out and does the little things,” first-year Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He organizes everything on both ends of the floor.”
Hinrich’s old running mate at KU, Collison also plays a limited role (13.6 minutes) as a 35-year-old substitute big man for one of the NBA’s premier teams. And like Hinrich, the 6-10 forward ranks pretty high on some of Oklahoma City’s all-time lists.
Drafted by Seattle before the franchise relocated to OKC, Collison is third in games played (841), behind Fred Brown and Gary Payton. He ranks third in offensive rebounds (1,709) and total rebounds (4,566), behind Jack Sikma and Shawn Kemp. Collison also is third in field-goal percentage (.534), sixth in blocks (459) and ninth in minutes played (18,042).
As much of a mentor as a statistical contributor, Collison helps the Thunder (20-9) on and off the floor. He leads by example by defending, rebounding and taking charges.
And he’s helped 22-year-old protégé Steven Adams develop the Thunder’s pick-and-roll into a legitimate weapon.
“The teams that are really hard to guard in this league are the ones where you have a big threat rolling down the middle and you’re really put in a bind,” Collison told Oklahoma City’s website. “We’re trying to get in those situations on the offensive end as much as possible.”
Cleveland at Golden State — featuring Sasha Kaun and Brandon Rush
An NBA Finals rematch? How about the first ever professional meeting between Cleveland’s Sasha Kaun and Golden State’s Brandon Rush (4 p.m., ABC) — teammates on KU’s 2008 national championship team.
A member of the nearly unbeatable defending champion Warriors (27-1), Rush has played more this year (14.9 minutes, 5.2 points) than he has since the 2011-12 season. Golden State made the 30-year-old forward a starter when Harrison Barnes injured his ankle and became unavailable.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to show that I can still shoot the ball and can still play at a high level,” Rush told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I feel so much better than I did last year — with my shot and just being able to move around the court.”
Rush’s best game to date came against Sacramento, when he nailed 4 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 16 points. In December, he is averaging 6.8 points and hitting 50 percent of his 3-pointers (14 of 28).
A major knee injury in 2012 derailed Rush’s career a bit, but now he finally appears to be back on track.
“It’s been up and down, especially these past two or three years,” Rush told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But now, everything is looking up. Things can’t get any better. I’m shooting the ball well, we’re the best team in the league, and we’re on the verge of trying to get another championship. I’m definitely in a great place right now.”
Kaun landed in a pretty good situation to start his NBA career. Cleveland, home of superstar LeBron James, is 19-7 and the prohibitive favorite in the Eastern Conference to return to the NBA Finals.
The Cavs don’t exactly need Kaun, a 30-year-old, 6-11 center that much, though. After spending most of his professional career overseas, Kaun has played in just seven games in his rookie season, with eight total points in those cameos (4.4 minutes).
"But, you know, his game is very simplistic,” Cavs coach David Blatt told Northeast Ohio Media Group before the season began, “so it's not like he has to do a lot of things that would require him to adjust. He just has to get used to the size and the length of the guys and the speed of the game."
L.A. Clippers at L.A. Lakers — featuring Paul Pierce, Cole Aldrich and Tarik Black
This NBA nightcap in Los Angeles (9:30 p.m., ESPN) seems like it would provide the most bang for a KU fan’s buck, with three Jayhawks in the mix.
But even longtime NBA star Paul Pierce isn’t expected to participate all that much. The 38-year-old forward sat out the Clippers’ previous game to rest his sore back, and coach Doc Rivers said his veteran forward will be limited in the battle of Los Angeles.
Pierce has played less for his new team of late, averaging only 10.8 minutes and 3.0 points in December (16.3 minutes, 4.1 points on the season).
On the other hand, another Jayhawk this week suddenly found himself in a more active role.
Reserve center Cole Aldrich, after not registering a single minute in 11 straight games, has played in each of the Clippers’ last two games and even played in the fourth quarter of a one-point loss to Oklahoma City earlier this week. Aldrich finished with five points, four rebounds and two blocks in 14 minutes.
"I think that was a prime example of being a star in your role and not trying to reach outside of that," Blake Griffin told the Los Angeles Times. “(Aldrich) just did what we need him to do and that's huge."
Rivers told the L.A. Times he turned to Aldrich to give the Clippers (16-13) an energetic boost. That’s what the 27-year-old did, playing in just his seventh game of the season (1.7 points, 2.1 rebounds in 5.3 minutes).
"If we play this way the rest of the year, we're going to win a lot of games," Aldrich told the L.A. Times. "We played with a lot of heart and a lot of enthusiasm and it was fun out there."
Meanwhile, the struggling Lakers (5-24) could use a similar spark from second-year big man Tarik Black. The 6-foot-9 center hasn’t played for the purple and gold since Nov. 24, but just got called back up from the team’s D-League affiliate on Wednesday.
Black put up 25 points and 14 rebounds in his final appearance with the D-Fenders. The 24-year-old big averaged 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds in a four-game D-League stint, coming off an ankle injury.
Lakers coach Bryron Scott didn’t play Black Wednesday, while utilizing three other big men off the bench in a 35-point loss to the Thunder. So there is no guarantee Black will see the floor versus the Clippers.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
With 11 seasons of NBA experience behind him, veteran power forward Nick Collison isn’t the type of player a coach turns to to go score a crucial, last-second basket or to stop the opposing team’s best post player. But Collison just might be more important to the culture of the Oklahoma City Thunder than any other member of the franchise.
Collison, who averaged 4.1 points (career low), 3.8 rebounds (second-lowest average) and 1.4 assists for OKC in 16.7 minutes per game (tied a career low) last season, has reached a point in his basketball life when he knows younger guys are going to play ahead of him. Whether that’s an all-star caliber big man such as Serge Ibaka or an up-and-comer such as Steven Adams, Enes Kanter or Mitch McGary, that’s all right with Collison.
The former Kansas star, who just turned 35 on Monday, has been with the Thunder since the franchise relocated to Oklahoma from Seattle.
Even the face of the organization, Kevin Durant, has called Collison “Mr. Thunder.”
So, no, new coach Billy Donovan won’t be drawing up a lot of plays for his aging reserve big man. But, yes, Donovan trusts Collison to turn all these young post players with OKC into better professionals.
Collison doesn’t deliver exciting highlight plays the way OKC’s young stars Durant and Russell Westbrook do, but it seems like all the players love the old guy. Just look at how much they enjoyed his epic Halloween/birthday party this weekend.
What’s more, Collison is the type of guy the organization can lean on to set the tone as a player and member of the local community. He was one of the many members of the Thunder who visited Monday with victims of the Oklahoma State homecoming crash at the OU Children’s Hospital and OU Medical Center.
Collison’s worth never gets lost on OKC general manager Sam Presti, who locked up the veteran big man through 2016-17. Presti described Collison as a flag-carrying member of the team who mentors the young guys coming through the program. The Thunder GM said he went this summer to visit Collison in Seattle and Adams was there working out with him.
“… Steven is like 23,” Presti marveled at the odd offseason partnership. “They're not watching the same movies, OK. But Collison is taking an intentional and active role. When I say building the organization, he's helping that guy. I think he's really invested in Steven and his success.”
The Thunder are considered one of the premier challengers for reigning NBA champion Golden State in the loaded Western Conference. And while outsiders don’t think of Collison when they think of Oklahoma City, everyone in that organization is grateful for what the old-timer brings.
2015-16 ’Hawks in the NBA Season Previews
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During the past few days, players for the NBA’s 30 franchises posed for photos, answered questions and took in media day festivities with varying degrees of seriousness.
That means it’s time to get the old ’Hawks in the NBA blog up and firing again. At this moment 19 former Kansas players draw paychecks in The Association, and they all — well, almost all of them — had their moments in the spotlight at media days.
From rookies just getting started, to veterans joining new teams to role players fitting in, here are some of the KU-related social media highlights from around the league.
COLE ALDRICH, L.A. CLIPPERS
CLIFF ALEXANDER, PORTLAND
DARRELL ARTHUR, DENVER
TARIK BLACK, L.A. LAKERS
MARIO CHALMERS, MIAMI
In case you were wondering, “Spo” is Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, and Chalmers’ “new role” will be him coming off the bench.
NICK COLLISON, OKLAHOMA CITY
JOEL EMBIID, PHILADELPHIA
If you were curious about how Joel Embiid is handling his ongoing injury and rehab process, you’re not alone.
Appropriately enough, the injured-for-another-entire-season Embiid wasn’t a part of the 76ers’ media day, according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.
Presumably, he’ll attend a media day and play in the NBA one of these years.
Embiid’s last known whereabouts? Going to see the Pope.
DREW GOODEN, WASHINGTON
Before looking for Drew Gooden content, I thought, What’s that maniac up to?
Well, he’s up to this:
That dude has to be a blast to cover. Rarely not entertaining.
KIRK HINRICH, CHICAGO
BEN MCLEMORE, SACRAMENTO
MARCUS MORRIS, DETROIT
The Pistons’ Twitter account did a tweet Q&A with a number of Detroit players Monday, but apparently Marcus bounced before they could get one rolling with him.
As a side note, ESPN’s NBA folks ranked Marcus Morris as the 191st-best player in the league. So there’s that.
MARKIEFF MORRIS, PHOENIX
By far the biggest ’Hawks in the NBA news to come out of media days was presumably disgruntled forward Markieff Morris putting on a happy face and stating he wants to be in Phoenix.
That’s not what he was saying back in August, when he told The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey: “One thing for sure, I am not going to be there.”
At the time at least, Markieff was hot and bothered about Phoenix shipping his twin brother and roommate Marcus off to the Pistons. He still might be a little sour with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough about that transaction.
SASHA KAUN, CLEVELAND
Sasha Kaun is Russian. Timofey Mozgov is Russion. Hijinks ensued.
KELLY OUBRE JR., WASHINGTON
Looks like Kelly Oubre Jr. loosened up and got comfortable at the Wizards’ media day.
PAUL PIERCE, L.A. CLIPPERS
THOMAS ROBINSON, BROOKLYN
BRANDON RUSH, GOLDEN STATE
Yes, Brandon Rush won an NBA championship with the Warriors. But, no, there isn’t a lot of media interest in him out in Oakland.
Upon posting this blog, Rush hadn't appeared in any Golden State tweets — or, really, anywhere else in the Twitterverse.
ANDREW WIGGINS, MINNESOTA
Unlike Marcus Morris, the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year was able to answer a few questions on Twitter.
JEFF WITHEY, UTAH
In his 11 NBA seasons since graduating from Kansas, Nick Collison has played for just one franchise: the Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Super Sonics).
He began his professional career playing for coach Nate McMillan, then Bob Weiss, Bob Hill and P.J. Carlesimo before spending the past six seasons under Scott Brooks.
As Collison’s career winds down, he’ll play for a winner at the college level who hopes his own pro days are just beginning. Former Florida coach Billy Donovan took over as OKC head coach this offseason.
Collison had minor knee surgery recently, and his rehab has kept him around the Thunder’s facilities. His time there allowed the veteran to speak with Donovan on several occasions. Collison said in an interview on Oklahoma City’s website he tried to help the new coach get acclimated to the franchise.
At KU, Collison actually faced Donovan’s Gators in the 2002 Preseason NIT, and Florida won 83-73. Collison scored 16 points in the November setback before eventually helping the Jayhawks reach their seconds straight Final Four.
Now the two basketball lifers are working together in the NBA. Collison said even with a coach as well known as Donovan, it takes working with someone to find out how well he might fit in. The 34-year-old power forward said Donovan already is learning a lot about the Thunder, its players and how the team needs to improve.
“He’s a very sharp guy. I think he’s going to do a good job,” Collison said.
While the 6-foot-10 backup big man and his OKC teammates have grown accustomed to Brooks and his staff the past several seasons, Collison said they need to be open to suggestions and changes with Donovan taking over.
“We’ve done things one way for a long time. A lot of things are going to be different. It doesn’t do any good to waste time fighting that,” Collison said. “We need to come in with the idea that we’re going to be open-minded, we need to get better and we need to buy into whatever the staff wants to do.”
Playing for a perennial title contender in Oklahoma City, Collison said the team has a lot of work to do after missing the playoffs this past season. The Thunder finished 45-37 and lost a tie-breaker with New Orleans for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. OKC surely would have won more games and perhaps made a deep postseason run had it not been forced to deal with so many injuries. Not a single player on the roster played in all 82 games. Star point guard Russell Westbrook missed 15 games, starting power forward Serge Ibaka missed 18 and franchise centerpiece Kevin Durant missed 55.
Collison said the Thunder always have had the pieces to be great and the team needs to improve defensively under Donovan to become even tougher to beat. Even though he described 2014-15 (Collison played in 66 of 82 games) as a struggle, the potential for next season seems limitless.
“There’s no guarantee that everyone is healthy all the time but we’re looking forward to having everybody back and are excited to play with the full squad again,” Collison said. “We have a ton of talent. We have a great roster. It’s going to hopefully be a really good year for us.”
Collison’s interview came after he spent some time talking hoops and the tricks of the up-and-under at the Thunder’s youth basketball camp
He said starting the summer with knee rehab should help him get to a good spot by the time the Thunder opens preseason camp this fall. As Collison’s knee gets stronger, he said he’ll add in more weight training. Once he’s cleared to get back to regular basketball activities, he’ll do a couple days of individual work and pickup games and take some days off for recovery.
“Knowing yourself in your 30’s, like the wise old man that I am,” joked Collison, who averaged a career low 4.1 points per game last season, “I think I have that figured out pretty well, a good mix, and I’ll be ready to go when camp starts.”
In the meantime, he knows the offseason is just as much about recharging your batteries after a long, draining campaign.
A photo posted by Nick Collison (@nicholascollison) on Jun 2, 2015 at 6:58pm PDT
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In the midst of his 11th season in the NBA, Nick Collison gives much of the credit for his ability to stick around and contribute for so long to growing up around the game and his time as a Kansas Jayhawk.
Collison recently spoke about his pre-professional days in a video feature produced by the only organization he has ever played for in The Association: the Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Super Sonics).
The video features footage from his prep days, including a pretty incredible interview with a very young-looking Collison, and, of course, highlights from his four years in crimson and blue.
Now a 6-foot-10, 255-pound veteran, Collison lived and breathed basketball growing up in Iowa, where his father, Dave, coached in the high school ranks.
“My last couple years of high school, I knew I was going to be able to play in college, and wanted to play in the NBA,” Collison shares, “so I think that’s when I really started taking it serious as a possible career.”
For more insight on his days at Kansas, the Thunder even track down the power forward’s KU coach, Roy Williams, now at North Carolina.
“First time I ever saw Nick Collison in a high school game was winning a state championship,” Williams says of the Iowa Falls native. “I though, ‘My gosh, what a complete player, what a competitive guy, what a leader out there on the court.’ I was just absolutely blown away.”
Collison went on to start in the 1999 McDonald’s All-American Game — played at Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum, in his home state — for the West team, with Carlos Boozer, Jonathan Bender, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Brett Nelson.
Why did he choose KU, instead of playing at Iowa or Iowa State, or someplace else?
“I realized that that would just be an incredible place for me to play, and Coach Williams would be a great coach to play for, and I started to look at it more of like, ‘How do I fit in ?’ and it just seemed like the best fit for me.”
Collison says the aspects of his game he perfected at KU gave him an advantage over other role players once he got to the league, and allowed him to become the player he is.
“Everybody at this level is a great player and great athlete, but I’ve been able to stick around because my habits have been good and I’ve been able to be in the right place at the right time. And I owe a lot of that to Coach Williams and his staff.”
The former Kansas coach recalls how Collison led by his actions when he called Lawrence home. Williams marvels that the hard-working forward drew charges, sprinted back to play defense and dove on the floor without coaches asking him to do so.
“I don’t think I ever raised my voice at Nick Collison for four years. He made me a heck of a lot better coach. Won a lot of games because of his toughness, his competitiveness, his will to win.”
“He was such a good learner. He was a student of the game, and you explain things to him one time and showed it to him and he pretty much had it.”
Collison doesn’t play (16.1 minutes a game this season) or produce (3.9 points and 3.5 rebounds through 40 games) as much as he once did now that his career is winding down. But he says he always had a respect for the game and what it takes to play in the NBA.
“For me, that’s what really drives me. Knowing how fortunate I am to be at this level and how few people can get here.”
What’s more, Collison says he still knows this basketball thing is just a small part of the rest of his life
Check out the entire video from the Thunder:
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Hunker down, get hydrated and tell your loved ones you will see them next spring.
Hopefully that’s not your mindset, but people should be warned: The at times seemingly never-ending NBA regular season is at hand.
The first handful of games tip off October 28, marking the start of the 82-game grind.
Thankfully for us, all we have to do is sit back, watch and enjoy. To make sure you’re fully prepared for the 2014-15 campaign, we’ll be rolling out a season outlook for each former Kansas University player who currently calls The Association home.
Nick Collison — Oklahoma City Thunder
6-foot-10 power forward | 11th season
2013-14 numbers: 81 games | 16.7 minutes | 4.2 points | 3.6 rebounds | 55.6 FG% | 71 FT%
A quintessential role player with one of the NBA’s first-class organizations, Nick Collison has done dirty work since he showed up in the league a decade ago.
Now the question is: how much longer will we see Collison boxing out, rebounding and diving for loose balls in an Oklahoma City uniform?
He has never played fewer minutes per game than he did last season (16.7). Never averaged fewer points in a season (4.2). Never brought in fewer rebounds a game (3.6).
Collison, who turns 34 this week, actually has reached the point in his career that he can — and has been —described as “aging” in the headline of a story.
NewsOK.com’s Anthony Slater recently asked Collison, in the final year of his contract with the Thunder, about what lies ahead.
“Everyone, always, you think about the future,” Collison said. “But one thing I’ve learned over the years, you can’t really ask yourself an unanswerable question. Someone told me that once and I think that’s a good way to look at it.”
In terms of its frontcourt rotation, OKC is trending young. The past two years, the organization has drafted Steven Adams and Mitch McGary — both big men in the mold of Collison: tough, crafty, don’t need touches to be effective while blending in with a star-laden lineup (see: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka). Perry Jones continues to develop as a viable option at power forward, too.
Adams essentially is Nick Collison Version 2.0. Whomever edited Grantland’s Bill and Jalen’s 2014-15 NBA Preview can’t even tell the difference between the two of them.
So it stands to reason Collison’s minutes and production could drop a little more this coming season as Oklahoma City tries to get out of the West and back to the NBA Finals after falling short two years in a row.
However his role forms, it’s obvious coach Scott Brooks trusts Collison in every situation. Here is what the head coach told NewsOK.com:
“You could put him for five minutes or for 35 minutes,” Brooks said. “He’s going to give you everything he has.”
Old? Maybe. Reliable. Of course. In Collison’s preseason debut Tuesday, he hit all three of his shots and scored eight points in 11 minutes versus Utah.
He even drilled a pair of 3-pointers. (He has hit five in his career.)
So what do we expect out of Collison for the 2014-15 season?
His stats might take a decline. But we could still see him on the floor in crunch time as OKC chases the No. 1 seed in the West and an NBA championship.
Collison won’t be the guy on SportsCenter’s Top 10. He’ll be the guy in perfect position under the boards, making sure his man can’t get the rebound.
And he might just have a new go-to shot. From downtown.
’Hawks in the NBA 2014-15 season outlooks:
Oklahoma City veteran power forward Nick Collison hadn't checked into Game 6 for even a few seconds Thursday night at Los Angeles.
And even though Thunder coach Scott Brooks had only played the former Kansas University star 7.4 minutes a game in the previous five contests against the Clippers, that didn't mean the coach lacked confidence in Collison. Far from it.
When Serge Ibaka suffered a calf injury, Collison entered the game for the first time with 7:24 left in the third quarter, and subtly helped OKC clinch the series with a 104-98 road win that moved the Thunder on to the Western Conference finals.
Like most nights, Collison's numbers didn't jump out of the box score and slap you across the face: 17 minutes, 1-for-1 from the floor, 1-for-2 at the foul line, 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block.
But his impact came almost immediately when he subbed in with OKC down five points to the Clippers. Within a minute, Collison grabbed a defensive rebound and blocked a J.J. Redick layup.
In the final minutes of the third, he dished a pass to Russell Westbrook for a layup and closed the quarter with a game-tying 3-pointer from the corner.
The clutch shot was Collison's eighth 3-pointer. Of his career — regular season and playoffs combined.
“Nick has taken 1000 shots from the corner, from the three-point line, and hasn’t had many opportunities this season. That was a big bucket. I love the fact that we trusted him. We see him work every day and it’s nice our guys rewarded him with a nice, clean pass and the belief he was going to make that shot.”
Collison kept chipping in during the fourth quarter, with Ibaka unavailable:
• Rebounding to finish a defensive stop
• Drawing a foul on Blake Griffin, who would foul out a couple minutes later
• Securing an errant Chris Paul pass for a steal
• Dishing to Steven Adams for a jam that put OKC up nine with 4:28 to go
After playing 17 straight minutes, during which the Thunder outscored the Clippers by 16, Collison left the floor with his team up 10 points and just 2:27 left on the game clock.
"What an outstanding performance by a true pro," ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said as Collison checked out of the game.
Berry Tramel, who covers the Thunder for NewsOK.com, further detailed what Collison brought to the win — defense.
Collison stayed in the game until Blake Griffin fouled out with 2:27 left. In those 17 minutes, Griffin made just three of eight shots and went to the line just once, making one of two. That’s seven points in 17 minutes against Collison. Of those eight Griffin shots, only five came from inside, where Griffin’s muscle can be too much for anyone, including Collison.
Collison, one of the league's ultimate role players, didn't mind getting his hands dirty for stops down the stretch.
The victory advanced Oklahoma City to the West finals, where the Thunder will meet San Antonio. Game 1 is Monday night (8 p.m., TNT).
Down to two
'Hawks in the NBA Paul Pierce (Brooklyn), Drew Gooden (Washington) and Thomas Robinson (Portland) all got knocked out of the playoffs in the second round.
Only Collison and Miami's Mario Chalmers remain alive in the hunt for the NBA championship.
The Heat play at Indiana on Sunday afternoon (2:30 p.m., ABC).
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Paul Pierce and LeBron James have been battling in the NBA Playoffs for years.
The rivalry between the forwards began when Pierce played for Boston and James played for Cleveland, but it's continuing this postseason with Brooklyn and Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Given the history between the two, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Pierce approached his coach, Jason Kidd, about guarding his old nemesis — as detailed in a story by Ohm Youngmisuk for ESPNNewYork.com.
In Game 3, Brooklyn had to win to keep the best-of-seven series manageable, and Pierce helped limit the ever-explosive James to 12 points over the last three quarters of a 104-90 Nets win on Saturday, which cut Miami's lead to 2-1.
"I went to J-Kidd [for] Game 2 and said I want that assignment. ... I think I've guarded him more than anybody in this gym. I know his tendencies a little bit more and I just try to step up in that role and try to lead that way."
That conversation came after James hit 10 of 15 shots in Game 1. The four-time league MVP shot 9-for-18 in a Game 2 win, and then went 8-for-15 in Game 3.
Pierce's defense against LeBron certainly hasn't been flawless.
But matchup data from NBA.com/stats shows that The Truth is making an impact on the defensive end. James and Dwyane Wade combined to score 48 of Miami's 90 points in the Miami's first loss of the playoffs. Pierce spent more time guarding one of those two in the half court than any other Brooklyn defender.
In 8:31 of game time, James and Wade got 29 half-court touches versus Pierce. They combined to score seven points — 3-for-7 field goals, 1-for-4 on 3-pointers and no trips to the foul line.
If it's up to the 36-year-old Pierce, one of the few people out there who believes Brooklyn can beat Miami and advance to the conference finals, he'll guard the 29-year-old LeBron the rest of the series. Averaging just 11.7 points a game in the series, Pierce told reporters he has to impact the game on defense.
"I don't have the offensive load that I had in the past where I set on having to carry us all the way offensively and then take the best defensive assignment. Now I can reserve a lot of energy toward trying to defend him. When the time comes for me to score, then I'll do that also."
Game 4 is at Brooklyn on Monday night (7 p.m., TNT).
Collison and Durant go way back
When Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant earned his first MVP award last week, he thanked each one of his Thunder teammates during an emotional acceptance speech.
The league's MVP made it clear through his words how important the honor was to him, but he also showed humility and appreciation for the players who helped him reach greatness.
Durant didn't come into the league playing at this level, and few know that better than Kansas alum Nick Collison. He has spent more time with Durant than any other player in an OKC uniform — the two began as teammates with the Seattle SuperSonics before the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.
Due to his unique perspective (Collison has been teammates with Durant since KD entered the league), Sports Illustrated asked him to write about playing alongside Durant for seven seasons.
Collison shared how limited the future superstar was as a rookie, and how he developed into the unguardable monster he is today. Now in his 10th season out of KU, the backup power forward appreciates what the MVP has meant for his livelihood.
Look at my career. I'm viewed as a guy who does the little things that help a team win. I have a niche, even a little bit of a cult following. But if I were on a losing team, no one would talk about that. And the reason for that is Kevin, and Russell Westbrook. Their success raises all of us.
Collison closes the piece by saying what an honor it has been for him to play with Durant.
And the feeling is mutual.
The Thunder are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers, 2-2, in a West semifinal. Game 5 is Tuesday night at Oklahoma City (8:30 p.m., TNT).
Social media buzz — Mother's Day edition
Noteworthy tweets and Instagram posts from and about the 'Hawks in the NBA:
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