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Feb. 17, 2012
Proximity to home guided James Collins to Florida State, and Florida State gave him the skills to take an opposite and longer path thereafter.
The Seminoles' Legend for 2012 helped FSU to the finals of the NIT in his senior season of 1997 and embarked on a long career in professional basketball overseas that included a championship and a variety of experiences off the court. These days, he has completed the arc, returning to coach his alma mater, Andrew Jackson High School in Jacksonville, Fla.
So for Collins, the Legend honor offers a chance to do something rare: pause and reflect.
Collins contemplated Big Ten schools out of high school, but a couple of factors worked in FSU's favor.
"I'm a Florida kid, and it was cold in Minnesota," he said. "That, you might say, was a deterrent."
Another factor was imminent fatherhood, which Collins embraced three weeks before he graduated from high school. Being a time zone away from his son would be untenable. FSU, located less than three hours from Jacksonville, offered the perfect situation.
"It meant playing in the most prestigious conference in basketball," he said. "I loved the visit. I had been familiar with the schools because I had friends who had played football. And I liked the direction the program was going at that time."
Pat Kennedy's first two teams took the ACC by surprise, immediately earning seats at a table populated by bluebloods of different hues. Collins arrived after the second of those campaigns, and while the Noles didn't keep the momentum going entirely, his shooting skills and defensive tenacity ensured FSU would still be a tough out.
Before Florida State joined the ACC, many presumed the program would need several years to get above water, but the recruitment of Collins and others suggested otherwise. The Noles indicated the move to a higher league doesn't have to be perpetually arduous, and the tectonic shifts in college sports in recent years have given many programs reason to examine stories such as FSU's.
Collins, who hit 37 percent of his 3-point field-goal attempts, still ranks among the program's Top 10 in several offensive categories.
The Seminoles missed out on postseason in Collins' first three seasons but were rewarded for their patience with an NIT bid of which they took full advantage. The senior guard led FSU to wins over four marquee programs, Syracuse, Michigan State, West Virginia and Connecticut, as the Noles advanced to the title game. In the semifinals at famed Madison Square Garden, he went 8-for-12 from the 3-point line as the Seminoles edged the Huskies 71-65.
"We were always on the (NCAA) bubble," Collins said. "My biggest moment at the school was being able to go to the NIT championship game."
Collins, a third-team All-ACC player in 1995 and 1996, earned a promotion to second team in 1997. (The competition for the first five was pretty substantial: Tim Duncan, Antawn Jamison were among that group.)
A few months later, he was a second-round NBA draft pick, and he played 23 games for the Los Angeles Clippers in 1998. He learned the opportunities on the biggest stage are rare; he also figured out the world's a stage. With a family to take care of, he ventured far and wide to apply his skills.
Collins played one season in Italy and helped one of his Spanish clubs to a league title in a seven-year stint. He looked into situations in France and Russia but got out in one case when payment appeared unlikely and in another when the city was literally being demolished block by block in the early days of post-Soviet Russia.
The schedule, which includes three practices on some days and only one game in most weeks, was a bit of a grind.
"The season in European leagues drags on too long," he said. "You're away from your family.
"You do earn that money. And you have to get used to the customs, the food and an entirely different lifestyle."
When Collins returned to these shores on a full-time basis, he knew he wanted to get into developing the youth of his hometown. In the recently completed season, Collins' team started four underclassmen.
"I'm not radical with throwing chairs or anything, but I do light into the kids a lot," he admitted.
And he has plenty of stories to tell them.