Twin's peak has Stanford primed

Jason Collins forges new game identity as 1-2 punch with Jarron

Ncaa Tournament

March 22, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - It used to be that basketball, among other things, was where the Collins twins of Stanford differed.

Jarron, a 6-foot-11 forward who can play inside or out, had been a key player for the Cardinal from the beginning, contributing to the team's Final Four run in 1998.

Jason, on the other hand, had known only disappointment because of injuries that ended each of his first two years.

But unlike the hair (thick for Jason, close for Jarron) and neatness (Jarron very, Jason not so), the brothers' basketball careers are becoming alike.

That's because Jason, the 7-footer who is older by about 18 minutes, has emerged as a force for Stanford (30-2), which plays Cincinnati tonight in the second West Regional semifinal at the Arrowhead Pond.

"Injuries are part of the game; you've got to play through them," Jason Collins said. "The only thing is that now I have the opportunity to demonstrate what I'm capable of doing."

Said Jarron Collins: "It's very nice to see Jason doing well now, and very good for our team. He's doing some of the things that we've done our entire lives together. He's been dominating on the floor and leading the way."

Jason has given the Cardinal a "security blanket," as coach Mike Montgomery once called him, when defenses deny the perimeter game for which the team has become known.

Jason Collins averaged nearly 17 points and eight rebounds over the last 12 games of the regular season, and had more than 20 points in each of the team's first two NCAA tournament games.

As Stanford escaped a nail-biter against St. Joseph's in the second round last weekend, it was Jason Collins who stepped forward as his team was struggling offensively, scoring nine straight points to keep the Cardinal in the game.

"He's our go-to guy," said teammate Casey Jacobsen, a first-team All-American. "Everyone's going to deny the wings, so we've got to go to Jason every time, or Jarron."

Before Jacobsen, the Collins twins were among the most highly touted players to attend Stanford, having won two state titles at Harvard-Westlake High School in North Hollywood, Calif. But while the pair was expected to dominate at Stanford, it was a rocky beginning for Jason, who injured his left knee in the first game of his freshman season.

Given a medical redshirt, he played in seven games during his second year before disaster struck again. He fell hard to the floor after a basket against George Washington, breaking his wrist and ending that season.

From that, Jason made only one change. At the suggestion of his father, Paul, who thought his original jersey No. 33 was bad luck, Jason switched to No. 34.

"You can't get down on yourself," said Jason, who has two more years of eligibility remaining. "That's a credit to my support system - having family in the Bay Area, my brother being on the team, my team itself. They always kept me positive."

He returned last year, playing in 31 games as a reserve, though his coach said he easily could have started if not for the presence of star power forward Mark Madsen.

"He was good last year," said Montgomery, who is happy to have a true big man. "The difference between a 7-footer and a 6-8 guy is immense. They defend the perimeter, and you look and you can always find him."

After averaging 8.3 points and 6.1 rebounds last season, Jason Collins has been improving, but it was his 33 points against George Washington on Feb. 24 that turned heads.

He made 13 of 14 shots, but also showed range by knocking down four of five three-point attempts.

"In the last couple of years, it hasn't been an emergence," Stanford assistant coach Blaine Taylor said. "It's been a general climb where he's been able to play better and better and better."

Jason and Jarron form what UCLA forward Matt Barnes calls "the best 1-2 punch in the country."

For the first time, the two will be separated at this time next year. Jarron probably will be in the NBA. Jason, who will have his degree this spring like his brother, hasn't decided if he'll go pro. That would make him Stanford's first early entry into the NBA draft.

Right now, Jason has decided to savor the rest of what he believes could be a special season.

"We're trying to relish the opportunity to get victories for Stanford," he said. "At the same time, we know that this is probably our last year together."

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