NCAA BK

BURLISON: Collison now the center of attention

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Frank Burlison

 
   
 
Because he played alongside the so-often spectacular for the past three seasons in the Kansas frontcourt, you may not have appreciated what a marvelous basketball player is.

If that's the case, be prepared:

It won't take you very long to become a convert this season.

"Usually, a post player has some kind of hole in his game," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said, reflecting on three years of watching Collison prove fits for the Sooners and everyone else in the Big 12.

"He might not be able to hit jump shots, or free throws. It could be anything. But that's not the case with Collison. There are no 'holes' with him. There isn't anything you want a big man to do that he isn't good at."

And that's a major reason why the Jayhawks — even with the loss of 6-foot-9, Big 12 Player of the Year to the NBA — should be penciled into just about every mock 2003 Final Four by anyone who's thought about it longer than 10 seconds.

Among some of the other elite big men in college basketball right now, there are some who are bigger (Chris Marcus of ), some who are better jump shooters (Brian Cook of Illinois), those who are better shot blockers (Emeka Okafor of ) and some who have more innate strength with their backs to the basket (Michael Sweetney of ) than Collison.

But which of those big men is as well-versed as the 6-9, 250-pound graduate of Falls High in all facets of being a basketball player?

Once again, we turn to Sampson.

"With Gooden gone now, people are going to see just how really good Nick is," Sampson said.

"He's always kind of been in the shadow of Gooden. Now it's going to be his show."

Collison can't be bothered too much with platitudes right now, thank you very much. He's much too busy getting into the gym any time he can and working on all of those skills that basketball purists are so enamored with.

He's been that way, said his father — and high school coach — since he's been a third or fourth grader and began tagging along to Dave Collison's teams' practices and games.

"I started being the water boy for my dad when I was 8 or 9," Nick said. "I watched the guys practice and shoot on the side baskets."

He was also gaining the foundation for his basketball career that Kansas coach Roy Williams said is so pronounced even today.

"It's obvious he got great coaching from his dad," Williams said. "He was already so fundamentally sound by the time he got here."

When Dave Collison moved his family from Ft. Dodge to Falls to become the town's high school athletic director and basketball coach, he was sure his teams were going to be pretty well set in the post position in the future.

After all, Nick was a rapidly growing eighth-grader at the time.

By the time he watched his son graduate from high school five years later, his Falls teams had won back-to-back state championships, and was a McDonald's All-American who had signed to play at Kansas, located some 320 miles from the Falls town of about 5,500.

Dave Collison gave up coaching after his son's senior season and he and wife Judy, who also teaches in Falls, squeeze in as many Kansas games as possible ever since.

Sometimes that means not returning home from Lawrence until 4 a.m. and grabbing a couple of hours of sleep before heading to campus.

And, barring a shocking upset, when the Jayhawks advance to Madison Square Garden next month for the semifinals of the NIT, it will mean driving 21 hours to New York City to watch Nick and his teammates, including fellow senior and another Iowa high school graduate who was tutored by his father, .

"Thanks goodness for the Internet," Dave Collison said, laughing. "With Mapquest, we get our driving directions right up to the door of the arenas."

's quest to become the best he can be in hoops — "and playing in the NBA has been his goal since grade school," his dad said — has led to some travelogue moments of his own, since the summers he spent playing in national camps and tournaments as a high school player, and not slowing down a moment since enrolling at Kansas.

He played in the USA Basketball program each of the past five summers (with stops in South America and Asia sprinkled in).

He spent a couple weeks practicing with the U.S. team in and Portland as an "alternate" before it moved onto Indianapolis in September and suffered the much-documented indignation of getting spanked three times and finishing sixth in the world championships.

Collison would have loved the opportunity of actually being able to suit up and play with the NBA players in Indy.

In hindsight, Sampson — one of George Karl's assistants on Team USA — wishes he could have, too.

"I thought he did a real good job in the workouts," Sampson said. "I thought he should have played, if for no other reason than it would have been important to him."

If you detected a tad bit of sarcasm directed at some of the NBA players on the roster, congratulations.

Collison felt it was a couple of weeks well spent, though.

"I picked up a lot of stuff from those guys, especially Reggie Miller," he said. "I learned things that will help me a lot down the road."

And "down the road" is going to encompass more than the gyms the Jayhawks hit this season.

There's no doubt his NBA goal will be realized. Some scouts projected him as a mid- to late first-round pick had he opted to last June's draft.

But there was no real chance Collison was going to pack up and leave Lawrence until after his senior year.

"I always knew I would be here for my senior season," he said. "I'm having so much fun and I wasn't ready to give that up. Sure, it's a little risky (to pass up the opportunity to be a first-round pick) and nothing is guaranteed for me next year. But I'm confident I'll be a better player (next June) and be in a better position for the draft then."

By then another thing is almost certain:

Anyone who follows college basketball very closely at all is going to know exactly what Sampson means when he talks about Collison.

Frank Burlison can be reached at his e-mail address, fburlison@foxsports.com.

Tagged: Memphis, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Western Kentucky, Georgetown, Oklahoma, Kansas, Oakland, Portland

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