Wakes Collins becoming a big man on campus … but for how long?

North Carolinas Justin Jackson and Dukes Luke Kennard may be the frontrunners for ACC Player of the Year, but statistically, at least, Deacons big man John Collins has them both beat

Michael Thomas Shroyer—USA Today Sports
Mar 4

As John Collins stepped to the line to add an exclamation point free throw to Wake Forest’s upset of Louisville on Wednesday, the crowd at Joel Coliseum celebrated by serenading the sophomore center with a chant. “One more year,” the Deacon faithful shouted in unison. “One more year!” The chant was a response to the growing concern that Collins will leave school for the NBA draft at the end of the season. It’s an idea that at one point this season would have been as far-fetched as Wake thinking seriously about being one of the 68 teams selected to play in the NCAA tournament. But as the regular season comes to an end and tournament time arrives, there are the Deacons sitting on the right side of the NCAA bubble in virtually every Bracketology projection on the internet. And the reason they’re there is the play of their emerging star big man. North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Duke’s Luke Kennard may be the frontrunners for ACC Player of the Year and finalists for both the Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award — symbolic of the top player in college basketball — but statistically, at least, Collins has them both beat. He leads the ACC in field goal percentage at 62 percent, ranks second in rebounding at 9.8 and third in scoring at 19.3 — stats that would be even better if he was averaging more than just 25 minutes per game. “The way he moves his feet in the post, he’s very, very active,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said after watching Collins burn his Cardinals for 25 points and 11 rebounds. “He’s a terrific basketball player, the best post player in our league by far, if not the country.” That’s high praise from a Hall of Fame coach. But it’s legitimately earned, especially since the midway point of the ACC schedule. “That’s huge for me.” Collins said. “That shows me I’m definitely doing something right. For Coach Pitino to say something like that about me is great. That gives e a little confidence.” Collins hasn’t just raised his game from a freshman season in which he averaged 7.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while serving as a backup to Devin Thomas. He’s improved exponentially since the current season began. The 6-foot-10 Florida native scored 20 or more points in 12 straight games before “settling” for 13 in Saturday’s regular season finale at Virginia Tech. He’s averaging 24.3 points and 11.1 points during that stretch, numbers that haven’t been seen from a Wake big man since the days of Tim Duncan two decades ago. As impressive as the jump in those jumpers might be, an even more tangible sign of his coming into his own as an elite player is that his coach Danny Manning — an ultra-talented big man in his own right — no longer nitpicks Collins in his postgame press conferences. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that he’s even praising him from time-to-time. “John is playing at a high clip,” Manning said. “He’s manufacturing points really, really well — getting to the free throw line, second chance opportunities, running out in transitions to get ahead of the defense and getting early post position. He’s getting 10-12 points a game in those categories alone. “Then in the course of our offense he’s going to touch the basketball. We’re going to throw it to him and he’s been really, really efficient. Woods still has room to grow, especially when it comes to staying out of foul trouble. It’s a problem that cropped up again in the first half at Virginia Tech on Saturday. But that figures to come, especially since — as Collins himself points out — he’s still just a teenager. The question now is whether he’ll gain that experience and continue to grow as a junior at Wake next season or as a rookie playing for an NBA team. It’s a subject went out of his way to dodge in the moments following Wednesday’s upset of Louisville. “It’s always good to have the Deacon faithful showing their support for me,” Collins said. “So I’ll definitely savor the moment. It was a great moment for myself, especially beating the No. 8 team.” The Joel Coliseum crowd wasn’t the only one expressing an opinion on Collins’ future Wednesday. Sitting next to the Deacons star on the postgame interview dias, teammate Mitchell Wilbekin responded to a question about the chanting by offering his own two cents worth. “One more year, yeah,” he said, before heading out of the room with a chant of his own. “One more year,” he said. “One more year!”