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One Year Wonder

Transfer Anthony Collins providing valuable leadership as Aggies aim for March

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"The unsung presence."

That is how veteran CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein recently labeled Texas A&M senior guard Anthony Collins. Thus far this season, Collins is proving Rothstein's words to be spot on.

Part of his allure is that he doesn't overwhelm the stat sheet. Collins rarely makes mistakes, as evidenced by his team-best assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.35:1. To truly appreciate Collins, it is important to understand what he is not.

He is not a player who seeks out the limelight. If anything, he shies in the other direction.

He won't always be the one to take the big shot, but he can knock it down if need be.

He isn't known for showing too much emotion on the court. Instead, his temperament rarely changes as he often leads his team to victory.

By most measures, Collins is the kind of student-athlete who embodies many of the characteristics that Aggies adore.

He is polite and well-mannered. He is quick to deflect attention, instead passing it along to his teammates. He works hard at his craft and has spent countless hours fine-tuning his game.

He earned a degree in interdisciplinary social sciences from the University of South Florida last spring, and is working on a Master's degree in sport management while in Aggieland.

"Anthony's been really good," said A&M head coach Billy Kennedy. "He's got a really good basketball mind. He has helped Alex (Caruso) and he has helped our team, having another primary ball-handler on the court."

After playing for three years at South Florida, Collins is eligible to play just one season for Texas A&M. But during his brief time in Aggieland, Collins is on his way to cementing a legacy in the maroon and white while playing on perhaps one of the best teams in school history.

It is no secret that this is Kennedy's strongest squad since he arrived at A&M in Aug. 2011. And if this year's Aggies are dancing deep into March, Collins will be a big reason why.

A gifted floor-general, he finds open teammates, avoids turnovers, stays out of foul trouble, scores when needed and is the team's best free throw shooter. Against Florida on Jan. 12, Collins drained four free throws--his only points of the game--in the final 22 seconds to help preserve a narrow win for A&M.

What does all that mean? Simply, it means you won't always notice his name in the box score, unless you know where to look.

 

COLLINS THE CATALYST

Anthony Collins will play only one year at Texas A&M, and thus far he has made the most of it. Through the first four SEC games in 2016, the senior transfer from South Florida owned a sparking 8-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in league games. He was also a perfect 24-of-24 from the free throw line in the first 16 games of the season.

"He's been huge for us," said teammate Jalen Jones, A&M's leading scorer and one of the best players in the SEC. "He's been a great floor leader for us out there. He's a very unselfish guy, always looking for his teammates. He couldn't care less if he scored a point."

Collins takes the praise in stride.

"That means a lot, but I can't take full credit for that," Collins said. "I have to give it to my mom, my dad, my brothers...basically everyone who helped mold me. In high school I was taught to serve others before yourself. If you're serving others, at the end of the day it's going to help you too. If we all just helped everyone else out, the world would be a better place. That's what I'm all about."

Collins doesn't really remember the first time he picked up a basketball.

"I was such a little kid," Co llins recalled about the first time his father, Eltonic, put a basketball in his hands.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say almost everything in Collins' life has revolved around the sport. He's always spent time around the court--from early mornings before school to late evenings after the family's meal time was complete. He would work on his game, then work on it some more, and then work on it even more.

"For me, and probably most people, it keeps kids out of trouble," he said. "When you get out of school, you go play basketball. For other kids that don't have that, they're probably doing things they shouldn't be doing. It's kept me focused on a goal and (given me) something to strive for."

Collins tried to get better every day, which is something his mother, Cassandra, taught him from a very young age.
"In anything in life, you're going to have to work for it," Collins said. "Whatever job it is. If you want to be good at it, you're going to have to do it over, and over, and over. You may have talents, but if you don't work at them they'll fade away."

Collins prepped at Westbury Christian School in Houston, and was not only a team leader but was one of the top guards in the Houston area. He scored more than 1,000 points in high school and is the program's all-time assists leader. He helped lead Westbury to three state championship games, taking home the title twice.

When it came time to further his career, he leaned on experiences he'd taken from watching his older brother play. So, Anthony packed his bags and headed to Tampa.

"Definitely I wanted to play in college and play against the top talent," recalled Collins. "That's why I chose South Florida--so I could play in the Big East like my brother did. It was basically like NBA ball."

Nine years older than Anthony, J.D. Collins was a standout player on West Virginia's dominant teams in the mid-2000s--advancing to the Elite Eight as a junior and the Sweet Sixteen as a senior. Anthony used to watch his brother whenever possible, either on TV or in person, and dreamed of one day doing the same things he saw his brother do.

That dream became a reality almost as soon as Collins took the floor as a freshman, as he helped put together a magical season for the Bulls. As the team was surging toward a possible postseason bid--a rarity for that program--Collins was its catalyst. He scored in double figures in 10 of the team's final 11 contests. Following a huge seven-point win at Louisville, a team that won 30 games that season, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino called Collins "the best freshman point guard I've seen mentally in some time."

The Bulls weren't sure if they'd make their first NCAA appearance in 20 years, however...until they saw their name appear on television as one of the last teams in.

"(We were) jumping for joy," Collins said of that night.

He led USF to a victory in the 'First Four' over California to score the program's first ever NCAA Tournament win. The Bulls then went to Nashville and picked off 5th-seeded Temple in a game which saw Collins score a team-high 17 and dish out five assists. USF would fall just six points shy of the Sweet Sixteen a few days later, dropping a game to Ohio, another Cinderella team.

The next season was a tough pill to swallow, however, as USF slid to a 3-15 mark in the Big East. Prior to his sophomore campaign, Collins underwent surgery to remove an inflamed bursa sac out of his knee. Collins struggled to get the swelling to go away, and the nagging knee injury caused the coaches to shut Collins down for the year after playing just eight games.

"What (the injury) taught me was that when one part of your game is messed up, you can always work on something else," Collins said. "I tried to become a better shooter overall. At the end of the day, as you get older, all the athletic things fade away. So this just made me look long-term earlier, and I feel I improved as a shooter and got smarter overall."

 
 

As Collins returned to being 100 percent healthy and looked ahead to his junior season, he endured more adversity--this time, a coaching change. The man who recruited him, Stan Heath, was fired. The new staff brought in a very fast-tempo offense and, while the new style was not suited to showcase Collins' strengths, he ended up leading the league in assists in what would turn into a lost season with just nine victories.

Knowing he was graduating with one year of immediate eligibility remaining, Collins took the opportunity to play closer to home and afford his family the chance to see him play more regularly. He had some familiarity with Texas A&M--he and Aggie standout Danuel House were, of all things, once teammates at Welch Middle School in southwest Houston.

After a visit to A&M, it was the strong bond amongst the team and coaching staff that made his decision easy.

"Basketball is not so much about talent as it is about chemistry," Collins said. "I think that's why I chose to come here. You can have the most talent, but if people don't like playing with each other then there's no point even in having talent. That's what I looked for. When I looked at the roster and how my strengths, my personality and what I do well fit the team, I felt it would be the right fit for me."

Collins isn't sure how far the game will take him after his college days are over. But he knows what he wants to do once he hangs up the sneakers.

He wants to coach.

"Oh, for sure," said Collins with a huge smile when asked about making basketball coaching his career. "That's not even a thought. I don't care what level it is. I have to be around (coaching) when I'm done playing."

"I'm not the most vocal guy. But when I sat out (due to injury) I had to become more vocal since I wasn't playing, to help guys see certain things from a different point of view that maybe they wouldn't see. Coach (Kennedy) sees how passionate I am about it and how serious I take it. I just try and help out as much as I can. At the end of the day it's his word, but I just try and help him see the things I see out there."

And just what does he see in this Texas A&M team?

"Every day we're getting better," Collins said. "Hopefully we just keep focused and humble. If we keep doing that, I feel the sky is the limit for us."

Matt Simon, director of digital media for 12th Man Productions, is a 1998 graduate of Texas A&M University.

 

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2016 January

"It's an honor for me to give back because A&M has always been so good to me.

This is my way of telling Texas A&M 'Thank you.'"

Red Bryant
Former Texas A&M defensive lineman and Super Bowl Champion