What Sherron Collins says KU basketball can do to compete 'with anybody in the country'

Matt Galloway
Topeka Capital-Journal
As part of the Ferris Mowers NABC National Championship Trophy Tour, former Kansas point guard Sherron Collins will meet with Jayhawk fans from 5:30-7 p.m. Saturday at the Booth Family Hall of Athletics in Allen Fieldhouse and at halftime of the No. 17-ranked Jayhawks' game against No. 2 Baylor.

LAWRENCE — Positive feedback simply carries more weight when it comes from a peer, even more so when a successful predecessor offers up a glowing review.

Marcus Garrett, then, should take pride in how one all-time great Kansas basketball point guard views the Jayhawk currently manning that all-important position.

“I love Marcus, man,” said Sherron Collins, whose decorated KU career (2006-10) produced a national championship and a retired jersey. “He’s a tough guy, someone you would love to have on your team. I would love to play with Marcus all day long. He makes your job easier, absolutely.”

Real recognizes real, as the expression goes.

Collins spoke to The Topeka Capital-Journal ahead of his appearance at Allen Fieldhouse for the 7 p.m. Saturday showdown between the No. 17-ranked Jayhawks (17-8, 11-6 Big 12) and No. 2 Baylor (18-0, 10-0) — the KU legend will meet with fans and pose for pictures at the Booth Family Hall of Athletics from 5:30 p.m. until tipoff and at halftime as part of the Ferris Mowers NABC National Championship Trophy Tour.

In his conversation with The Capital-Journal, Collins offered insight on several topics, including the play of backup point guards Dajuan Harris and Bryce Thompson; the postseason outlook for a squad that, compared to recent Jayhawk teams, has struggled; and how senior leadership helped the 2007-08 national championship team overcome its own moments of adversity.

On Garrett, though, Collins’ evaluation often circled back to one central theme.

“I got a lot of respect for Marcus,” Collins said. “Marcus has played banged up a lot. I mean, everybody can see it. You can just see it, (him) grimacing. So you gotta respect players like that. Russell (Robinson), we had a lot of guys like that on my team, so I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

A 6-foot-5, 195-pound senior and former Naismith Defensive Player of the Year honoree — the Dallas native was on Thursday named a semifinalist for that award yet again — Garrett has averaged 10 points on 44.9% shooting with 3.7 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game this season. A first-year point guard following in the footsteps of program greats like Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, Garrett’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.71 ranks seventh in the Big 12.

“I think he’s handled the point well,” said Collins, a consensus All-America first-teamer in 2009-10. “Being asked to go lock the best offensive player up, I mean, he’s handled that well. I take my hat off to him. I think he does great. I think he should take more shots, honestly. I think he should shoot it more.”

Here are other noteworthy observations from Collins’ interview with The Capital-Journal:

Bullish on the backups

Harris and Thompson, two Jayhawks experiencing their first taste of college basketball, have each made significant contributions off the KU bench of late. Both played well in the team’s 75-72 overtime loss Tuesday at No. 14 Texas, an outcome that snapped a five-game winning streak that also saw several contributions from the reserve duo.

Harris, a 6-1, 170-pound redshirt freshman, has had Collins’ attention since the former’s time with MOKAN Elite. With several friends on that area AAU program’s coaching staff, Collins got an early primer on Harris’ abilities and continued to follow his development ahead of Harris' commitment and arrival at KU.

Collins labeled Harris “a solid backup." Like his critique of Garrett, though, Collins would like to see more offensive aggression out of the Columbia, Mo., native.

“I’ve seen him play way before he got here, so I know Dajuan can jump,” Collins said. “I know he’s talented offensively. He runs offense. You can’t ask for a better guard, especially coming off the bench. He plays, he guards. Like I said, I want him to shoot more. I think he should shoot more. ...

“The thing is, I think everybody’s (got) a little bit more offensive talents and they can do more, but you stay within your offense, you stay within the game plan. So sometimes you don’t want to step out and do too much, and I think that’s the thoughts with some of these guys. Especially with the team we’ve got this year, we’ve got to get the best shot we can every possession.”

Thompson, a 6-5, 195-pound freshman, returned Feb. 11 from a broken right index finger and has shown flashes of the abilities that earned him status as a five-star recruit coming out of Tulsa, Okla. Injuries have limited Thompson to 15 games this season, with only six of those appearances coming since New Year's.

Collins said Thompson has a tendency to get "sped up a little bit," though he noted that isn't exactly a rare problem for a first-year player.

“I think he handles it well," Collins said. "We missed him for sure. He came back, and Mario Little had that glove on, too. That means (Thompson) probably came back a little early. You gotta respect guys like that. I love guys like that, hard-nosed guys who don’t back down from an opportunity.”

One aspect that anyone evaluating Harris and Thompson should remember, Collins said, is that they’re “not getting the real college experience right now,” a reality Collins acknowledged would’ve affected his play negatively had he been tasked with performing in a pandemic-limited environment. Collins specifically cited a Jan. 6, 2010, matchup against Cornell where he “had nothing” but was nevertheless spurred to a come-from-behind victory by a raucous Allen Fieldhouse.

“They ain’t played in a hostile K-State environment yet. They ain’t played in front of a real KU crowd. So they’re really getting a little cheated right now,” Collins said. “I just can’t wait for things to get back to normal so they can perform and really feel, really get the real feel of it, because it’s a little different right now.”

Lessons learned

Virtually no collegiate team is exempt from some kind of in-season adversity, and Collins’ national championship squad is no exception to that rule. That truth, the Chicago native and current Lawrence resident believes, is one this current Jayhawk squad can take comfort in and, more importantly, apply to itself.

While that 2007-08 group finished with a 37-3 record, two of those defeats came in a three-game span late in the season and were part of a broader 4-3 skid that included a defeat to Sunflower Showdown rival Kansas State. Collins cited the team’s five seniors, particularly Robinson, in helping KU get through that rough patch, as well as other heated moments that popped up throughout that campaign.

“Everybody, we almost had fist-fights in the locker room, and it was all because we wanted to win. That was the main thing,” Collins said. “And Russ was a big part of that. Russ was a big part of that. ... He sacrificed a lot. A lot of people didn’t know Russ was more offensively talented than he showed because he wasn’t asked to be. He took on a role as being like, ‘I’m going to be the difference, I’m going to be the guy, I’m going to do it.’ He was a hell of a defender. The reason I’m as good as I am with pressure, I was at Kansas, was because of Russell. I’m going to put that out there.”

Collins called Robinson “the heartbeat” of that team.

“It was just (his) will to win, man,” Collins said. “A hard-nosed guy from New York, took me under his wing. I knew when Russell took me under his wing that I was all right. Like, OK, this is how you’re supposed to carry yourself. He wanted it.”

Whether it took the form of team meetings, dinners or late-night video game sessions playing “Call of Duty," that Jayhawk team bonded often, recalled Collins, who added that any time a problem would crop up within the team, no matter how big or seemingly insignificant, the seniors would get the group together and hash it out “right there.”

“When we got to that point, we were going to win the national championship, because there was nothing that nobody on the outside was going to do to bother us," Collins said, "and that was because the seniors led us to that.”

Garrett, reserve forward Mitch Lightfoot and walk-on guard Chris Teahan are the only seniors on this team, though Collins indicated leadership can come from anyone, even the players averaging the fewest minutes.

For Collins, the formula for a deep run into March for these Jayhawks is clear: be the toughest team, get to every 50/50 ball and, well, “hit everybody in the mouth first.”

“We can play with anybody in the country when we play it the right way,” Collins said. “I just think they’ve got to out-tough people, man, because this is a team where it ain’t as talented as one of the teams that we’re normally used to seeing, the high-flyers. We’ve got high-flyers, don’t get us wrong, but it’s just a little bit less dunks this year than normal. I just think we’ve got to be the scrappiest and toughest team out there, which we can be.”

NO. 2 BAYLOR AT NO. 17 KANSAS

Tipoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence

Records: Baylor 18-0, 10-0 Big 12; Kansas 17-8, 11-6 Big 12

Line: Baylor by 5

TV/Radio: ESPN/Topeka: KWIC-FM (99.3); Salina: KZUH-FM (92.7)

Up next for KU: vs. UTEP, 7 p.m. Thursday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence

As part of the Ferris Mowers NABC National Championship Trophy Tour, former Kansas point guard Sherron Collins will meet with Jayhawk fans from 5:30-7 p.m. Saturday at the Booth Family Hall of Athletics in Allen Fieldhouse and at halftime of the No. 17-ranked Jayhawks' game against No. 2 Baylor.