washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > College Basketball - Men

Hokies' Collins Is Turning Into a Late Bloomer

Unheralded Sophomore Returned From Surgery to Energize Virginia Tech

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page D09

The pain in Virginia Tech forward Coleman Collins's left foot was so bad that he considered quitting basketball altogether. Following a Hokies practice in early December, Collins told teammate Jamon Gordon, "If this doesn't stop, I'm done."

On Dec. 12, Collins underwent surgery to remove a quarter-sized cyst and screw from his left foot, which he broke as a freshman during Virginia Tech's final preseason game in 2003. Only 15 days after surgery, with the pain in his foot subsiding, Collins returned to the court and immediately became an impact player.

Va. Tech's Coleman Collins scores over Maryland's Travis Garrison in Hokies' win on Saturday. Collins, a forward, had surgery on his left foot on Dec. 12. (Gene Dalton -- Roanoke Times Via AP)

Collins, from Stone Mountain, Ga., scored 16 points against Mississippi State on Dec. 30, with most of them coming against preseason all-American Lawrence Roberts. He scored 16 against Florida State in the ACC opener and had 20 points and nine rebounds in a 72-71 win over North Carolina State on Jan. 19.

Even though he played in the Hokies' first seven games and played pretty well, averaging 7.3 points and 2.1 rebounds, Collins said the pain was often unbearable. His foot hurt before, during and after practices and games, and it even throbbed as he slept and walked to class.

"It was just getting so bad," Collins said. "I was just so tired of being hurt. It was just frustration. I don't know if I really meant I was going to quit, but I said it."

Hokies Coach Seth Greenberg is certainly happy Collins didn't quit. Collins is one of the main reasons the Hokies surprised nearly everyone else in the ACC by finishing with an 8-8 record in league play. Entering today's ACC tournament quarterfinal against Georgia Tech, Collins is averaging 11.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.

"After the surgery and once he was healed, he was like a sponge as far as his work ethic and his desire to improve," Greenberg said. "I think he really appreciated the chance to play again."

Collins played at his best in the Hokies' biggest games, scoring 14 points and grabbing a career-high 18 rebounds in a 67-65 upset of No. 7 Duke on Feb. 17. In last Saturday's 86-76 win over Maryland, which clinched the Hokies fourth place in the ACC and a first-round bye in the conference tournament, Collins had 14 points and 15 rebounds.

"The guy has great hands and he gets off the floor really quickly," Greenberg said. "He's only 18 years old. He still needs to develop a couple of more post moves, but he's absolutely had a fantastic sophomore season."

During the summer before his senior season at Chamblee High School in Atlanta, Collins was playing in an AAU tournament in Morgantown, W. Va., and had 20 points and 14 rebounds in a game. Former Virginia Tech coach Ricky Stokes was in attendance and was impressed. The following day, after Florida Coach Billy Donovan and South Carolina Coach Dave Odom arrived, Collins hurt his back and played only five minutes in a game. Collins figured he had squandered his chance at getting a scholarship to a major Division I program.

"After that, it was just Virginia Tech and a few smaller schools," he said.

Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said the Yellow Jackets didn't recruit Collins because they'd just signed prep all-American Chris Bosh and had forward Ed Nelson, the reigning ACC freshman of the year. Bosh entered the NBA draft after his freshman season; Nelson transferred to Connecticut as a sophomore.

Collins had 13 points and six rebounds in Virginia Tech's 70-69 upset at Georgia Tech on Jan. 22.

"If Collins had been available, we'd have definitely looked at him," Hewitt said. "He's really done some remarkable things for them this year."

The Hokies, and Collins, have played better than anyone else expected.

"I think I've surprised people," Collins said. "Nobody ever expected me to be a big-time player."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company