Winning As A Habit
Darren Collison wants to bring his winning ways to the NBA.
It’s been nearly 10 weeks since Darren Collison saw his college career come to an end on the floor of the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. During his first three seasons as a UCLA Bruin the lightning quick point guard had been an integral part of three Final Four teams. That’s right, for three years he didn’t know what it felt like to lose before the final weekend of the college basketball season. With that fact known, it makes it a little bit easier to forgive Collison if he didn’t exactly know how to act in the waning seconds of a 20-point loss to Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament this year.
“It was a little bit of a surprise because I didn’t know what it felt like to lose in the second round,” he says. “It was way too early in the year for me to stop playing basketball. It was kind of weird, but at the same time you have to learn how to deal with adversity.”
If that’s the only major adversity Collison had to deal with during his time in Los Angeles he is most certainly one of the lucky ones; but the lack of adversity on the floor during his years of higher learning is of his own doing. Plain and simple: Collison is a winner. He won at UCLA, helping the Bruins to the aforementioned three Final Fours and a remarkable record of 123-26 during his four years. In his junior and senior seasons at Etiwanda High School Collison led the Eagles to a two-year record of 62-5 and a pair of national rankings in the USA Today poll. Now he is ready to take his winning ways to the ultimate stage, a journey that will begin at the end of this month when he hears his name called on draft night.
After taking some time to let his body recuperate from a long season in the Pac-10, Collison spent several weeks training out west with former USC coach Dave Miller who was also working with UConn big man Hasheem Thabeet. Collison says the main focus of his training was to build up his endurance for what will be a long, grueling series of workouts for a multitude of NBA franchises. The hope has been that he will be able to show off one of his most attractive features during the sessions he gets with scouts and GMs.
“I’m definitely trying to show off my speed and quickness,” he says. “At the next level the game is played up and down so you’re definitely going to need to have that extra gear.”
Arguments will certainly be abundant when it comes to who is the fastest player in this year’s draft class. Some say it’s Collison, others have their money on North Carolina’s Ty Lawson and some will even venture Brandon Jennings (for the record Collison had the second fastest agility drill time and third fastest sprint time at the NBA combine in Chicago last week). The former Bruin knows that his speed isn’t that will ultimately distinguish him from his peers in what is considered to be a loaded point guard crop though.
“You learn a lot of things by staying in college for four years,” Collison says. “This isn’t to take away anything from these guys who play one or two years, there’s a lot of talent out there, but me being a senior I can tell you there’s so much to learn playing those extra years. Most people aren’t a fan of staying, but if you look at a guy like Brandon Roy, he got the most out of his time at Washington and now he’s succeeding at the next level. You’re ready to come in and play right away as a senior.”
Collison also pointed to his tenacious defense as a major add-on to his NBA resume. Long considered one of the better backcourt defenders in the country, the senior has averaged at least 1.6 steals per game for each of the last three seasons. Playing a position where Collison says, “most people don’t play defense,” the fact that he has excelled so much on this end of the floor has been a source of intrigue for many NBA teams.
According to Collison, during a recent workout with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a member of the Cavs coaching staff inquired as to which aspect of his game Collison takes more pride in, offense or defense.
“That right there speaks volumes for itself because for another person to see that I’m good on both sides is important,” Collison says. “My defensive ability is definitely going to help me in this next process; I think a lot of teams are interested in working me out because of that. Teams want to know how good my defense is and how can it translate to the next level.”
Scouts also like that Collison has the ability to run an offense operating at a multitude of tempos. Having spent four years in Ben Howland’s slow, deliberate offense, Collison has more than enough experiencing operating in a half court set as a floor general. At the same time, he has the luxury of being able to adjust to the NBA’s up tempo pace thanks to his outstanding speed on the court. Whatever it is about his game that interests teams at the next level though, there is no question Collison will be in the League next year looking to emulate the point guards that he has been compared to.
“I hear it all right now: Rajon Rondo, Devin Harris, T.J. Ford, Aaron Brooks, all of these guys change the game because of their quickness. I feel like I can be in that group along with them in terms of speed and quickness. All of those comparisons though don’t mean anything until you go out and prove it.”
If Collison gets his way, he’ll get the chance to prove it well beyond the time that March Madness comes to an end, deep into the month of June. There is still work to be done though, a fact that Collison has applied to his life in the past. The pint sized point guard states that the decision to return for his senior year at UCLA, a decision that has helped his stock, was founded on the opportunity to make one final run at college basketball immortality.
Even though the Bruins fell short in their post season run, Collison is quick to say he has no regrets in deciding to stay for another year. While the elusive national championship stayed as such, the senior said he was able to learn even more about the ability to lead a team and when need be, put it on his shoulders.
“I learned how to be battle tested,” he says. “I think it got me ready. I know a lot of people think there are a lot of point guards this year that are ahead of me right now; that’s perfectly fine, but I’m going to play with a chip on my shoulder in order to make me the best I can be for the draft.”
The old maxim goes that more is learned from a loss than from a win. It’s a safe bet to say that losing to Villanova has made the desire to win at any level that much greater for Darren Collison.