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John Collins, Trae Young Shine During All-Star Weekend Events
Author: Kevin L. Chouinard
After an entertaining weekend of basketball in Charlotte, John Collins and Trae Young wore faces of chagrin late Saturday night.
Collins took center stage in the night's signature event, the Slam Dunk Contest, with fellow competitors Hamidou Diallo, Dennis Smith, Jr. and Miles Bridges. For his opener, Collins attempted a dunk that he believed to unprecedented: He slapped his left forearm into the far left edge of the backboard before ducking, curling under the rim and slamming it in from the opposite side. Each of the five judges awarded Collins a score of 8 for a total of 40 points.
When asked afterward whether or not the score was lower than he expected, Collins lingered for a moment before breaking into a whisper.
"Yeah," he said, "I think it was a bit lower."
For his second dunk, Collins brought out five men dressed in the style of the Tuskegee Airmen and a replica plane meant to evoke Kitty Hawk. Then he donned an aviator's cap and a white scarf handed to him by Young. But as he leaped over the plane. Collins clipped the tail wing and knocked it off.
"I'm a history buff, so I was trying to do something historical to the area," Collins said. "Obviously, I didn't really complete it the full way. I hit the side of the plane. It was supposed to the a replica of the Wright Brothers' plane that first took off in North Carolina."
Collins earned a score of 42 for the dunk, and his total of 82 points wasn't enough to earn him a spot in the final round, where Diallo defeated Smith, Jr. For his finishing dunk, Diallo took a handoff from Quavo as he sailed over him to the rim and a victory.
Collins said that if he had gotten to the final round, he would have tried a two-ball dunk with an assist from Young. But he declined to give any more detail in the case that he might want to try it again in the future contest.
"It's going to take me a bit to get over this, but I should be back in the contest pretty soon," he said.
Earlier in the evening, Young finished second in a dramatic conclusion to the Skills Competition.
Young won his first two rounds to advance to the final round against Jayson Tatum. In the final, Young sped through the course, taking a lead of about 30 feet before lining up for a three-point shot, the last obstacle of the course. At the same time, Tatum launched a one-legged push shot from five feet behind midcourt. Tatum's incredible line-drive heave sailed under Young's shot and into the basket for the win.
"I knew he was going to shoot it early. I didn't know it was going to go in. It's tough to end on that one," Young said with a wry smirk.
Turnabout truly turned out to be fair play, as Young escaped the opening round against De'Aaron Fox with a long shot from the logo before he bested Luka Doncic in the second round.
"I think that's the smart strategy," Young said of Tatum's shot. "It worked for me in the first round. Fox had a huge lead and I shot a deep shot when he had missed the first one."
The end result proved to be the most dramatic and memorable outcome in the history of the event.
On the night before Saturday's anguish, Collins and Young shined while helping the US Team to a win in the Rising Stars Challenge. Young had 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, including a sensational one-motion nutmeg layup. He finished second in the MVP vote behind Kyle Kuzma on the strength of several dazzling plays.
For his part, Collins contributed two dunks that would have been worthy entries in the Dunk Contest itself, a pair of plays that drew the largest gasps of the game from the crowd. For the first, he scooped a pass over Doncic and high off the glass before retrieving it and dunking. For the second, he got an assist from Young. As Collins approached the rim from the wing, Young lofted a crafty alley-oop pass that sailed behind him. Collins did a 180-degree turn to snag it mid-air, before doing another 180 to face the rim and slam it.
When asked about that alley-oop, Young said he relished the opportunity to have the eyes of the national stage on him and the Hawks, something that he wants to happen with more regularity.
"We've been doing that all year," Young said. "That's something that people don't really get to see from us coming out of Atlanta. We don't really get the recognition that we feel like we deserve. For us, on a stage like this, in a place like this, we feel like we can come out and put on a show."
Young said that he hopes to return to All-Star Weekend and win.
"I want to get a trophy on a Saturday night event, whether it's this (Skills Competition), the Three-Point Contest, or the Dunk Contest."
A giddy chuckle indicated that Young was joking about that last part. For the rest, though, Young was dead serious. Like Collins, he covets the limelight that shines on great teams and players, and he wants to win – at everything.