Originally created 01/30/98

Collier had it with Knight



ATLANTA -- Talking to reporters before the start of Indiana's basketball season, Jason Collier suggested the Hoosiers would show more flair this year because they would dunk more often.

The prediction seemed innocuous enough, but coach Bobby Knight was incensed. He taped a sign onto Collier's locker that read, "How about more (expletive) rebounds and help (on) defense."

Such is an example of what drove Collier, one of the nation's most highly recruited big men two years ago, to leave Indiana last month and enroll at Georgia Tech.

"I just think it was difficult for me to play for coach Knight because I'm not the kind of person that you have to yell at to get to do something," Collier said. "I'm a guy that if you tell me to do something, I'll do it and ask if there's anything else that needs to be done. I just couldn't put up with the constant yelling."

former Parade and McDonald's high school All-American, and an honorable-mention All-Big 10 selection last year, Collier won't become eligible at Tech until Dec. 19 of next season.

The unexpected coup sent coach Bobby Cremins scrambling to adjust his schedule. Most of next season's early games have been moved, and Collier, a 7-footer who will play power forward beside 6-11 center Alvin Jones, will miss only three games.

"I don't even want to talk about the future because that wouldn't be fair to this year's team," said Cremins. Still, the coach couldn't hide the gleam in his eye. "Obviously, we're excited to have Jason, and we feel like we have something to look forward to," Cremins added.

Collier never responded to the volatile Knight, a coaching legend whose controversial antics have included throwing chairs, head-butting a player and even kicking his own son.

here was last year's 70-53 loss at Purdue, after which Indiana returned home at 2 a.m. Knight left the team in the locker room for two hours while he reportedly sulked. He came back at 4 a.m. and told the players to return at 6 to get ready for a 7 a.m. practice.

Collier refers to the practice that followed as a "barroom brawl." The players ran 125 baseline to baseline wind sprints, then went through a brutal practice in which star Andrae Patterson injured his knee and Collier hurt his back.

Of course, as Collier has heard many times since his departure, no one goes to Indiana not knowing what to expect. Collier even read John Feinstein's indoctrinating 1986 best-seller, A Season on the Brink, to prepare.

But ...

`You see somebody do something and it doesn't look that hard," Collier said. "Then you try to do it and it's harder than you could ever imagine. People can tell you that it's going to be the hardest thing in the world. But when you're 18 years old and coming out of high school, you think, yeah, whatever. I can do it. The guys have done it before me, so why can't I do it?"

Although it didn't make his task of walking into Knight's office to announce his decision any easier, Collier was the 32nd player to leave Indiana with eligibility remaining in Knight's 27 years.

Seven players have departed this decade, including guard Neil Reed, who quit last spring after charging that an enraged Knight put his hands around his neck.

Collier says he was never physically harmed.

`I wouldn't characterize it as being abusive, but I would characterize it as being tough," Collier said. "Abusive to me is when somebody's hitting you. Nobody was hit when I've been there. I can't speak for anything that may have happened before, but while I was there, nobody was physically attacked.

"But there's mental abuse. And I think that happens to a certain extent, and that was one of my problems."

Collier makes this concession: "It's not necessarily all (Knight's) fault that I left. I think it's a little my fault, too. I've got to put the blame on myself, too, because there are two sides to the story."

Knight criticized Collier publicly before his departure, and he hasn't stopped since. He says Collier lacks mental toughness and relies too much on his left hand.

"I think Collier's going to struggle until he learns how to play because his mind doesn't keep pace with the game," Knight said recently. "He has the skills that would enable him to be a very good player if he had extremely good concentration. One isn't going to happen until the other one comes around."

No one denies Collier's potential. Ohio's Mr. Basketball in 1996, Collier averaged 24.3 points and 14.3 rebounds as senior at Springfield's Catholic Central High and led the team to a state championship. At Indiana, Collier averaged 9.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in 33 games last year, and was at 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds this year.

Tech was on Collier's final list two years ago, and it was the first school he called after gaining his release from Knight. Collier's father, Jeff, attended Tech from 1972-76 and lettered on the basketball team in 1973. The senior Collier had a falling out with coach Dwayne Morrison, though, and, according to Jason, regrets not transferring.

A major selling point for Tech was that Collier would be allowed to play his preferred position of forward and would be encouraged to take outside shots. At Indiana, Collier's primary role was to patrol the low post and set screens.

"I made 40 (three-pointers) my senior year in high school, but at Indiana, I was strictly a five (center)," Collier said. "My first practice here, they rolled out the balls and the coaches go, `Well, let's see if you still have your three-point shot.' I buried like five in a row."

Although Collier expected to feel a burden lifted when he decided to transfer, he didn't expect his outlook on everything to improve so quickly.

He feels rejuvenated. His enthusiasm for the game has returned. He is enjoying classes.

"I wasn't eating at Indiana," he said. "I wasn't sleeping. I was worrying about everything. I have a girlfriend back in Indiana, and she thinks I've turned my whole life around. She came down here to visit me recently, and she said she couldn't believe how different I am."

And one day, the yelling he still hears may even stop.