Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| Mar. 17, 2005
Sonics rookie forward Nick Collison had one of the greatest tournaments in NCAA history, averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds in 2003 to lead Kansas University to the title game, where the Jayhawks fought valiantly before falling to Syracuse by an 81-78 final in a game they had several opportunities to tie in the final 30 seconds. With this year's NCAA Tournament upon us, Collison spoke to SUPERSONICS.COM about his experiences, particularly that 2003 run.
Was your 2003 tournament run the best experience of your basketball career?
That's right up there. It was a great run, because that season we started out 3-3, we were really struggling. Wayne Simien, who's now maybe the Player of the Year was injured - he was out for the season. We really only had about five players, and we went on a run. We beat Duke, then we beat Arizona, who was the number one seed, in back-to-back games. We beat Marquette with Dwyane Wade, we beat them by about 40 (33, actually, but who's counting?), and then played horrible in that last game (losing to Syracuse). But that run was a lot of fun. It was a great time. We've got a lot of great memories, but that was right up there.
Do you think that was the best stretch of basketball you've ever played?
"I felt like I left it all out there. I played 40 minutes, had 21 rebounds. I thought I did as much as I could."|
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Yeah, I think so. I think my senior year I played well the whole year but really stepped up in the tournament, especially the Duke game (where he scored 33 points and pulled down 19 rebounds), and that felt great to win a big tournament game and have a great performance like that. I felt I played real well in the last game, I just couldn't hit a free throw (he was 3-for-10). That's something that will bug me forever, but I felt like I left it all out there. I played 40 minutes, had 21 rebounds. I thought I did as much as I could, but that whole stretch I couldn't hit free throws. I was in a bad rhythm up there. For the most part, though, it was a real good run.
Was there a conscious feeling that you needed to step up your game?
Yeah, I think so, but then again, I didn't want to press too much. It was kind of like I wanted to make the most of the time I had, because I knew it was coming down to the end and, the first game we lost, there was going to be no tomorrow in terms of playing at Kansas, so I just wanted to go out and play as hard as I could and try to get myself mentally into the game, be aware of everything. I think we all did a good job of that, tightening up in the tournament, and that's why we were successful.
You've said in the past that as a team you played with the mentality that you had nothing to lose in the tournament. Was that difficult to do?
Not really. We got lucky in terms of we dodged bullets in the first round my junior and senior years. My junior year, we were down four to Holy Cross in the 1-16 game and Kirk (Hinrich) went down with an injury and didn't play the whole second half and we pulled that out. It was like, 'It can't get any worse than that.' We started down one of the worst defeats ever right there, so, 'Screw it, let's go play.' That's the kind of attitude we took. The next game we killed Stanford by over 20. My senior year, we beat Utah State by three in the first round. It was kind of like we had that game to get out of our system. We played tight and it didn't do us well, so let's just go out and play and have fun. That's probably the most fun time, those tournament runs.
Do you ever look back and think, 'What if?' about that championship game?
All the time, most days, if something comes up - especially with the tournament on and stuff like that. I think about it all the time. All the things that went wrong in that game and we still only lost by three - it's tough to take. They were 9-for-11 from 3 in the first half, which allowed them to get up by 14 right off the bat. If we shoot 50% from the line, which is horrible, we win the game. It's tough to take. (Keith) Langford fouled out with nine minutes left; he already had 19 points and we were thin as it was. You can't do anything about it now, but it still hurts. It's still hard to think about.
What do you think about Kansas' chances this year?
It's an open tournament, man. That's one thing I'll say, you never know. There's so many formulas they say you have to have to win it that get disproved every year that I say go play. It scares me a little bit they haven't played real well at the end (of the season) and Langford's been hurt, but if they can get it going, they've got as good a shot as anybody because they've got tournament experience. They've been through about everything that they could have been through. They're just going to be out there playing the game, trying to make good plays and win.