Collins And Loyola: A Happy Couple

Jan. 29, 2006

AP Sports Writer

BALTIMORE (AP) - Not long after he became head basketball coach at Loyola College in April 2004, Jimmy Patsos received an invaluable piece of advice from his former boss.

Maryland coach Gary Williams suggested that Patsos consider recruiting guard Andre Collins, who left College Park during his junior season because he wasn't getting enough playing time with the Terrapins.

"Gary said, 'He's going to be great for your program. You need a guy who can score,'" Patsos recalls.

Williams' assertion was right on target. Collins committed to Loyola before Patsos could finish giving him a personal tour of the Jesuit school, and now, after adhering to NCAA rules by sitting out last season, Collins ranks second in the nation with a 27.4 scoring average.

With Collins leading the way, Loyola (11-6 through Friday) has as many victories this season as in the last three years combined. The same program that produced just one win in 2003-04 and received national notoriety for losing 31 consecutive games is now a contender in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Two years ago, the Greyhounds drew a few hundred fans at home. Last Sunday, a boisterous crowd of 2,317 packed Reitz Arena to watch Collins score 22 in a victory over a Rider team that beaten Loyola six straight times.

"What Andre has done for our program is bring instant credibility. Not just with his numbers, but by the way he is off the court," Patsos said. "Andre Collins is a great guy. He's doing well in school. He didn't come here, look down on Loyola and say, 'I'm from Maryland. You're lucky to have me.' He came here and assimilated with every other student. That brought the crowd in."

Collins and Loyola were meant for each other. The 6-foot senior played 22 games for a Maryland team that won the national championship in 2002, but he spent much of the next two seasons on the bench before deciding it was time to take his sweet jump shot elsewhere.

"Everything was good at Maryland. I just never got the opportunity to showcase my skills," Collins said. "I'm very competitive, and I got frustrated. I love Coach Williams; I learned a lot from him. But here I'm getting a great opportunity, and I'm just trying to take advantage of it."

Collins led the Greyhounds in scoring in each of their first 17 games, twice contributing 39-point performances. He is also the team leader in assists, and has helped Loyola win even when his shots didn't always find the bottom of the net. He was 8-for-24 against Rider but served as a decoy while Shane James made the game-winning layup with 3.6 seconds left.

Most times, however, when the game is hanging in the balance, Patsos draws up a play that calls on Collins to take the last shot. Such was the case earlier this month, when Collins hit a 3-pointer with 23 seconds remaining in a 78-75 victory over Marist.

And that's how it was for Collins at Crisfield (Md.) High School, where he totaled 2,152 points and led the team to the Maryland IA state title in his final season.

"I'm not trying to disrespect this conference, but it's very reminiscent of my high school days, when I averaged 30 points and 10 assists my senior year and I was the leader of that team," Collins said. "It's pretty much the same here."

Which is just fine with Williams, who said, "I'm happy for Andre that he's playing well."

Collins has done more for the Greyhounds than merely put the ball in the basket; he's also served as an excellent recruiting tool. After Collins decided to come to Loyola, former Maryland teammate Hassan Fofana, another transfer student, followed. With Collins' aid, Patsos also persuaded former Notre Dame backup Omari Isreal to attend Loyola (although he won't be eligible until next season).

"Every one of those guys, Andre gets credit for because he's here when they come on their visit," Patsos said. "He says this isn't just a good place to put numbers up, this is a great place to go to school."

Collins is on course to earn his degree in sociology this summer, although that timetable might be moved back. He's vying to earn another year of eligibility because he left Maryland in December 2003 after playing only six games. But even if his petition to the NCAA fails, he's certain his basketball career is far from over.

"My ultimate goal is to play in the NBA. If that doesn't happen, I'll go overseas and play there," he said. "When I'm finished playing basketball, which will probably be years from now, I'll get into coaching."

For now, though, he's going to enjoy his stature as one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball.

"I'm just a little boy from the small town of Crisfield. It feels good to put my hometown on the map and to put Loyola on the map," he said. "We're making changes here, turning the program around. I'm just happy being a part of it."