Yuri Collins vows Not counting assists. At least not usually. But when you can get 20 assists in a match, you have to at least try, right?
“I didn’t really start hunting [assists] Until I’m 17,” Collins says with a laugh. “Then I said, ‘I can get three more’.”
Collins is college basketball’s assist king, and the distance between his throne and the rest of the sport is growing. After leading the country with 7.9 assists per game a season ago, St. Louis The floor general brought that number to 11.9 per competition with nine games in 2022-23. No other player’s average is above 8.2. Collins has been in five games this season with 13 or more assists, including 20 against Tennessee State and 14 against Southern Illinois last week. And it did all of this while reducing turnovers from 4.1 to 3.1 per game compared to the previous season.
“There are men with feelings [for the game] and then there are guys like him,” says Billikens coach Travis Ford.
Ford, a former star quarterback from Rick Pitino in Kentucky, didn’t have to go far to find his floor general. Collins attended high school in St. Louis in St. From the first time he saw Collins playing as a high school student, Ford knew there was something special about him. He turned to his assistant coaches with a single message: “We Have to have it.”
Saint Louis jumped early in hiring Collins, and the persistence paid off with a commitment even as more important programs began to roll. By the end of his first month in college basketball, he was Billikens’ starting quarterback and had a reputation as one of the best setters and defenders in the Atlantic 10. But his game really went up in 2021-22. Preseason A-10 Player of the Year Javonte Perkins took on a more prominent role after falling to the ground with a knee injury at the end of the season a few weeks before the season opener. In his absence Collins blossomed, doubling his scoring average from 5.1 to 11.1 points and leading the country in assists.
This stellar comeback garnered the attention of an actor who felt underemployed out of high school at the national level. So in mid-April, Collins entered the transfer portal and instantly became one of the best players available. His phone exploded while he was answering calls from the “biggest”. [schools] You might consider those interested in adding their services. But less than a week after his initial announcement, Collins announced his return to Saint Louis for a fourth season, turning down bigger opportunities to stay at Ford in his hometown.
“I don’t regret my decision at all,” says Collins. “A lot of people still say to me, ‘You should have gone here, you should have gone there, your [NBA] luck would have been better’ but I feel like I’m exactly where I belong.
The results were dazzling. His first game of the season with 14 assists, no turnover against Murray State set the course for a record-breaking start. By Jared BersonIn the last ten years, no male player has provided more than 90 assists in the first nine games of a season. Collins has 107. The 20 assist, single turnover burst against Tennessee State was the second time a player has had 20 assists in a game against a Division I team in the past decade. Other player? Trae Young scored 22 points against Northwestern State in 2017.
Collins feels his opponent to open games and finds where the holes will be. Then he attacks.
“I get that feeling in the first three or four minutes of a game. … I know the strengths and weaknesses of the defense and where I can separate them,” says Collins. “Once I start taking action, it’s hard to stop it because I know all its weaknesses; I know where to find you.”
He attacks these weaknesses with an almost incomprehensible tenderness and tact. A compilation of his best assists this year gets more and more daring, with highlights from one-handed ricochet passes, to cross-court darts, almost all in heavy traffic and almost all on target, step-by-step. Collins is often like a quarterback, passing players on the open, predicting where the gaps will appear before they’re opened, and throwing the perfect pass to them every time. And he does all this with an assassin-like approach, rarely celebrating or showing any emotion.
“Last night he had 20 assists in the game, 5-7 games where I was like, ‘Wow,'” Ford says. “You don’t see it coming. He foresees everything and trusts his teammates to keep running, cutting.”
These are not transitions that you can practice easily. A shooter can improve by going to the gym every morning and shooting 1,000 shots. However, passes like this cannot be simulated in an empty arena. They need an innate instinct that few players have. That’s why Collins spends countless hours watching movies, examining everything from his own plays to plays by Chris Paul and Luka Dončić, examining timing, angles and readings. Then, when it comes to practice, it tries new things… sometimes even pushing the boundaries.
“I take a lot of risks in training,” says Collins. “Even Coach Ford sometimes tells me that I change things up too much in practice, but I’m just trying things out.”
Ford says he’s willing to live with the occasional head scratcher, mostly as a tribute to the shine Collins produces so often.
“The positives far outweigh the negatives, that’s for sure,” Ford says. “He has the ball 95% of the time, so it’s really shocking that he didn’t flip the ball more than he did.”
Perhaps the most notable part of Collins’ game is how selfless it is. He makes it known that he’s more than a facilitator, but if that’s not what the defense gives him, he’s clearly not interested in hunting shots. Exhibit A: Collins scored 21 points in a season-high 13 shots against Providence, then returned in the next game to shoot just one shot in a 15-assist streak against NAIA school Paul Quinn. It’s a quality Ford says is “unheard of” these days.
“Everybody wants to score. And if he wanted to, Yuri could average 20 points per game. He can hit his points very easily and score goals,” Ford says. “He has to lead the offense and trap everybody in the games. And it usually depends on how teams play with him.”
Collins is the heartthrob of a Saint Louis team that is ranked 40th by KenPom and is considered a favorite to win the A-10 thanks to its early season wins against Providence and Memphis. One pass at a time brings Billikens closer to achieving the one goal they’ve yet to reach during his time there: a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Five observations per week in college circles:
- my trip to see Marquette’s A sad win against Baylor served as a good reminder of why Shaka Smart was at home in Milwaukee. Watching fans cheer for “kills” (three defensive stances in a row) and diversions golden eagles It won with the three and four star expectations Smart developed, it was quite different from the Texas days. It is a good reminder of how important harmony is when evaluating coaches.
- Speaking of form, Chris Beard was exactly what the doctor ordered. Texas. Their relentless energy in engaging the UT student community changed the mood around the Longhorns’ schedule and was again evident in their win over Creighton on Wednesday. A sparkling new arena certainly helps, but it’s clear he’s on track to achieve what Beard accomplished at Texas Tech: getting a soccer school highly involved in basketball.
- Great to see star freshman Cam Whitmore (Villanova) and Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas) is finally back on the field after his pre-season injuries. They may be the top two NBA contenders in college basketball this season, and in Smith’s case, his return lifts the Razorbacks to the national championship table.
- In less than two weeks, Kent State On the way, Houston and Gonzaga played wire-to-wire. Rob Senderoff has a team he’d like to see a 4 or 5 seed at the NCAA tournament in March.
- Youngstown State Dwayne Cohill has put together what may be the best half you’ll see against Wright State on Sunday. Cohill scored 30 points on 11-on-11 shots in the second half, leading the Penguins to a conference win, capping himself with an off-panel alley-oop dunk.
- December 6: Illinois-Texas: The Longhorns are holding their first test away from Austin against an Illinois team that came out of a tough road loss in Maryland.
- December 6: Iowa vs. Duke: Kris Murray could have made herself stand out more as a contender in the National Player of the Year race with a great performance against the Blue Devils.
- December 6: In Maryland, Wisconsin: Invincible Terrapins finished 6th in the first NET rankings, but getting on the way to Madison is never easy.
- December 10: Arizona – Indiana: This is a heavy fight in Las Vegas between the conference championship contenders in the Pac-12 and the Big Ten.
- December 10: Alabama – Houston: The Cougars battle star freshman Brandon Miller and the Tide, one of the biggest tests left on undefeated #1 Houston’s schedule.
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