With Help From Mom, Collins Brings Childhood Pastime To Highest Level

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Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

When John Collins was a young kid, his mother, Lyria Rissing-Collins, was serving her country as a member of the United States Air Force. So the 6-foot-10 Collins, whom the Hawks drafted Thursday with the 19th overall pick of the NBA Draft, did a lot of two things in his early years: traveling the globe and growing.

Collins was born in Utah, but soon moved to Guam when the Air Force stationed her there. In Guam, Collins got his hands on a basketball for the first time -- in an Easter basket that he received at age 2.

"I set it up in the living room with the little eggs and the grass and everything," Rissing-Collins said. "And I brought him down the stairs and I said, 'Easter... basket.'"

Collins surveyed the collection of candy and toy cars and decorations and quickly picked a favorite.

'Basketball?' said the toddler.

'Yeah!' said the doting mom. 

From that point onward, Collins and the kiddie basketball were hard to separate. 

"It was under his arm. It was in the tub," Rissing-Collins said. "I bought him a little plastic basketball hoop to put outside of the carport and the kid used to slam the ball and beat up on the neighborhood kids. He started just like that at 3 years old."

The tall youngster moved to spots all over the globe and picked up sports quickly. He went to Turkey with his mom until the events of Sept. 11, 2001 necessitated a move to the U.S. Virgin Islands to stay with his grandmother and grandfather. He fell head over heels for soccer. He mastered swimming and earned a certificate for diving at age 8. 

And he grew.

"He could eat a whole half of a cow," Rissing-Collins said of the her son's appetite. "He is a steak fanatic: breakfast, lunch, dinner. You can't have enough ribeyes and New York strips. If you ever invite him any place, have steak."

If all those steaks helped him to fill out his tall frame, they are paying dividends now. The Hawks were clearly drawn to his rare combination of size, athleticism and character.

"He can play a couple of positions," Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk said. "The way the league is going now, he is going to be able to play some 5."

Collins' varied skill set should help facilitate his transition to the NBA level, no matter which position he ends up playing. The Hawks' GM saw some of those talents on full display during Collins' two seasons at Wake Forest, where he finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in scoring (19.2 points per game) and second in rebounding (9.8 rebounds per game), while also leading the conference in field-goal percentage and player efficiency rating.

"He can score in the post," Schlenk said. "He runs the floor extremely hard, and he goes after the ball on the glass defensively."

If there are areas where Collins can improve, the upgrades may be more a matter of discovering untapped potential in his game. Collins and the Hawks resolutely believe in his shooting stroke. At Wake Forest, Collins attempted just a single three-point field goal, and he didn't earn a reputation as a shutdown defender. On the other hand, Collins fit a specific need for his college squad. They needed him dominating around the rim, and to achieve that feat, he had to stay near the basket and avoid foul trouble at all costs. 

Collins will first get the chance to expand his game at the NBA level in July in Las Vegas, where he will play alongside other young Hawks like Taurean Prince, DeAndre' Bembry, Tyler Dorsey and Alpha Kaba in Summer League. His mom expects him to be a great teammate. She said that his globe-trotting childhood helped him develop a highly-tuned sense of people skills that allow him to relate to everyone.

"He is very accepting," she said. "It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, he gives everyone a fair chance. He is that loving."