TAMPA — He is younger and smaller than most everyone around him, but that has never fazed Anthony Collins.
Not as a freshman point guard in high school, not growing up and wanting to play against his older brother J.D. and his friends, and not tonight as the USF freshman leads the Bulls into Big East play with a home date at the St. Pete Times Forum against defending national champion Connecticut.
"I just wanted to come in and try my best, to do the things the point guard does: play defense, get everyone else involved and let everything else take care of itself," said Collins, 6 feet 1, 180 pounds, who is from Houston.
In his first eight games, Collins showed enough to be handed the keys to the Bulls, having dished out six or more assists in five games. He has been pressed into a starting role more quickly than might have been expected: Last year's starter, Anthony Crater, was dismissed in May, and another challenger, sophomore Lavonte Dority, saw his minutes drop off enough upon Collins' arrival that he transferred.
More than any statistic, Collins has brought to the Bulls the guidance and direction that Stan Heath saw in him as he recruited him last winter.
"I don't know how much you see it from the outside, but he has extremely strong leadership abilities from that point guard position," Heath said. "At the end of the day, at the point guard position, I always thought he was the best leader that could really control the game and the team out there."
Collins, 19, said his confidence on the court comes from his brother J.D., now 28, who played four years at West Virginia, totaling more than 400 assists from 2002-06. Watching his brother play at a high level gave Collins a taste of what he wanted for himself, and playing against tougher competition growing up prepared him for what he has faced as a precocious starter in high school and now college.
"It helped a lot, because nothing was ever easy," said Collins, who broke his arm doing karate with his brother when he was 7, an injury that helped create his unorthodox shooting motion.
Heath can appreciate the motivation and drive of a younger brother. In his own house, he has seen it in his son Josh, a junior at Tampa Prep, as he follows in the footsteps of older brother Jordan, a Bulls walk-on last season.
"I see it firsthand," Heath said. "I have a younger son, and he's grown because of his older brother."
Collins leads the Bulls in assists and steals, and his 81 percent free-throw success is the best of any Bulls with 20 or more attempts on the season. His learning curve takes a sharp ascent now with the start of conference play, but Collins is excited, knowing it's a reason he chose the Bulls over other options like Baylor closer to home.
"It's the best competition in the world. If you're a basketball player, you want to play against the best," said Collins, who likes to watch NBA point guards such as Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul and pattern his game after theirs.
The Bulls were a lackluster 7-6 in nonconference, but tonight is the first Big East test, a chance to see whether USF can be competitive in the league, with Collins leading the way.
"I think he's a special kid," Heath said. "He's mature beyond his years. He certainly has a smart head on his shoulders. I think as time goes on, everybody has gained so much confidence, from the coaching staff to his teammates."