Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Anthony Collins is quiet leader for NCAA Tournament bound USF Bulls


There are times they play like a runaway stagecoach, frenzied and out of control. In those moments, when they seem to have lost directions to the basket, the USF Bulls can appear no more in control than if they were tumbling down a staircase.

And then the sleepy-eyed freshman takes over once again, and order is restored.

There are times they are ugly enough to make you bleed from your eye sockets, rough and raw. At such times, when the offense seems to be built around clanging the ball off the rim, the Bulls seem as if they might never score again.

And then the kid with the soft voice has the ball in his hand, and the turbulence stops.

He is 19 years old, less than a year out of high school, and already, Anthony Collins is the most essential Bull in the gym. There are point guards who are flashier, and there are point guards who score more. Certainly, there are point guards who are louder.

On the other hand, are there point guards who are more important to their teams than Collins? And how many of those are freshmen playing two seasons before they were supposed to make such an impact?

"He was a Christmas gift," USF coach Stan Heath said. "The first time he got the ball out there on the court in a game, and I saw how he ran the team, how guys responded to him, how he was able to read the defense and make plays, I knew we had something pretty special.

"Sometimes we talk about his passing and his ball-handling. But his defense and his toughness are just as good."

Are you still wondering how the Bulls finally made it back to the NCAA Tournament? Collins, that's how. Watch the Bulls when he is not on the court, and they can look a lot like a wrinkled shirt. Collins smooths everything out. He has a calmness, a maturity, that most point guards lack.

It was Collins, remember, who hit the clutch free throws to allow USF to beat Cincinnati. It was Collins who drove the length of the floor to beat Rutgers. It was Collins who scored 17 to beat Villanova in the Big East tournament. Lose any of those, and USF fans might be contemplating the NIT field today.

Instead, Collins will again be the key USF player tonight when the Bulls play Cal. Not bad for a guy who didn't play the first five games of the season.

"We're not here if not for him," Heath said. "There have probably been four games where he's been the difference. You don't expect that from a freshman."

Who did? Heath will tell you he expected this kind of impact from Collins … eventually. Maybe the year after next.

Remember, the Bulls were supposed to have Anthony Crater at the point, except he was dismissed from the team in May. They were supposed to have Lavonte Dority, except he quit the team in December. When Collins was hurt in the early season, junior college transfer Blake Nash got his shot. Nash is now a backup.

Of all of the options, the answer turned out to be Collins. Who knew? And if it was Collins who knew, he wasn't saying.

He is so quiet that it is easy to wonder if Collins has taken a vow of silence. Point guard can be a chest-thumping position, but even now, Collins speaks in whispers and cliches. Hey, he isn't on the debate team.

"Just look at him," Heath said. "He doesn't look the part. He looks like the 12-year-old kid down the street. He's such a nice kid. Then you watch him on the court. It seems like every game, we're going up against a guy … how in the heck are we going to stop him?

"Now, I don't even worry about it. I don't care who it is, who we're playing. I don't know how he does it. He doesn't look exceptionally quick. He doesn't look like he can jump or he's explosive. He just gets the job done."

Others have noticed, too. Cal coach Mike Montgomery calls him "the straw that stirs the drink," the old Reggie Jackson line.

"He's put us on his back for many a game," teammate Ron Anderson said. "Basically, right away he took over the game, took over the tempo and said he was going to be the general on the court."

He speaks? Yeah, on the court, Collins has a lot to say.

"The voice I think you're talking about is the voice of leadership, the voice of confidence, the voice of toughness," Heath said. "That's the voice our players and coaches hear when he's playing. The voice you hear up here is a shy kid from Houston who doesn't really want to be in the lights."

There is some of that to Collins, too. Heath tells the story of taking the team to an expensive restaurant while in Chicago. Collins studied the menu for a while, then turned to Heath and said "Coach … they don't have chicken fingers and fries."

That is Collins. Quiet. Simple. Essential.

Tonight, when the lights go on, USF needs him to speak loudly. Again.

USF 65, Rutgers 64 Jan. 1

Freshman point guard Anthony Collins hits a layup and is fouled, then makes the free throw with 12.7 seconds remaining.

m USF 65, Villanova 64 March 7

Collins' 17 points leads USF to a Big East tournament victory.

, USF 46, Cincinnati 45 Feb. 25

His two free throws with 3.2 seconds left clinch a huge win.

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