Kentucky trying to lure ‘off the charts’ shot-blocker away from Big 12 country

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Throughout the recruiting process for five-star power forward Daimion Collins, whenever a college coach has expressed interest, his Texas high school coach has asked why.

What is it that has attracted so many top-flight Division I programs to Collins? According to Atlanta (Texas) High head coach Jarrod Boston, the answer is usually the same.

“The first thing they talk about is: ‘Defensively we think he can guard 1 through 5,’” Boston told the Herald-Leader of his conversations with Collins’ college suitors.

“He is off the charts, defensively. He’s every bit of 6-9, 6-10 and he’s got the longest arms that you’ve ever seen in your life. And he is just superb at blocking shots. He has unreal timing, and he gets to some shots that sometimes I just shake my head and look at the assistant and say, ‘How did he get that one?’ ”

Collins — pushing 6-foot-10 and 200 pounds, with a 7-3 wingspan — averaged 24.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 7.7 blocks per game in his junior season at Atlanta, located a few miles away from where the Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana state lines meet. A few days ago, bumped Collins up from No. 20 to No. 10 in its national rankings for the 2021 class. A few weeks before that, Kentucky’s coaching staff extended a scholarship offer for next season.

With a game that’s ready for the highest level of college basketball and plenty of upside beyond that, Collins has emerged as one of the hottest recruits in the country.

Boston has been there since the beginning of his basketball journey. He coached Collins’ father — a Division I-caliber football player and basketball standout for Atlanta High in the mid-’90s — and taught his mother in high school, as well. He’s coached their son since his seventh grade year.

Collins started for Atlanta as a freshman. He once blocked 10 shots in the fourth quarter alone as a sophomore. He emerged as a star recruit nationally last year, going from unranked by entering that summer to No. 96 overall entering his junior season to top-20 status by the end of the high school year. He’s only gotten better since then, and he’s considered to be one of the most athletic frontcourt players in the 2021 class.

“His explosive jumping ability is the thing about him,” Boston said. “Usually you find those kids around 6-5, 6-6 that have that unbelievable vertical jump. But he’s 6-10 and he has an explosive jumping ability. He can get up twice quicker than most people can get up once. That’s kind of what sets him apart.

“And his explosiveness to the goal — he can leave from 10 feet out and still has no problem dunking the basketball. He’s an unbelievable athlete.”

Atlanta’s collective defensive mentality is to get after opponents on the perimeter, knowing full well what’s waiting for them in the paint.

“If they drive that’s fine, because we funnel them to him. And I tell him to go try and get every shot he possibly can get,” said Boston, who added that Collins knows how to use his length to keep would-be scorers at a distance that allows for blocked shots but doesn’t get him in foul trouble.

Offensively, Collins has been working on his outside shooting and ball handling. He’s improved enough in the latter area that Boston thinks he’ll be able to handle the ball in the open court this season, as well as help his team break the press. The veteran high school coach envisions a player who could excel setting screens and rolling toward the basket or popping off for jumpers. And he has the green light to play away from the basket.

“I’m kind of old school, so I would love to just go back to throwing it in there, and he could probably get 50 a game,” Boston said. “But it also wouldn’t help his game any. So I’ve told him that he can go inside and out. We’re going to do a lot of things on the perimeter with him.”


Before Kentucky entered the picture this summer, Collins had narrowed his list to 10 schools, but — in national recruiting circles — the pursuit of his commitment was largely seen as a two-team race between Texas and Oklahoma.

Both programs have been on him hard.

OU’s campus in Norman is actually about 100 miles closer to Collins’ hometown than Austin, and he’s become well-acquainted with the area. Collins spent a good chunk of the summer in Oklahoma, working out with his Team Griffin travel squad (sponsored by former Sooners star Blake Griffin). The team couldn’t travel for games due to COVID-19’s impact on the grassroots basketball schedule, but they got together for competitive workouts throughout the summer. One of his best friends on the team, Bijan Cortes, has committed to the Sooners. Another friend and Texas native, CJ Noland, committed to Oklahoma this week and told USA Today that he’s already recruiting Collins to join him in Norman.

Most of the recent 247Sports Crystal Ball and Rivals Future Cast predictions have gone Oklahoma’s way, though Texas has a few in its favor, too.

Boston said that Collins and his family have built a great connection with Longhorns Coach Shaka Smart, who the high school coach praised as a genuine person who cares about players off the court, a trait that was apparent from their first meeting with the Texas coach. “Those things are important,” he said.

At the time that Kentucky entered Collins’ recruitment, the Wildcats were also in the process of officially hiring Texas assistant coach Jai Lucas for an off-the-court position on UK’s staff. Lucas just happened to be the Longhorns’ point man in Collins’ recruitment, and current NCAA rules allow him to be in on UK’s phone calls and video meetings with the star forward and his family.

“I think it helps a lot. They really got along. Jai would call him a lot, talk to him a lot,” said Boston, who added that Collins and his family had also developed a relationship with Lucas’ father, John Lucas, a former NBA player and coach who is a major figure in Texas high school basketball.

Boston said Collins is planning to narrow his list to five schools in the near future. He didn’t name any favorites, but Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas are all expected to be finalists, and — at this stage — it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him end up with any of those programs.

The plan has been for Collins to wait until after his senior season and make a college announcement around the first day of the regular signing period, which begins April 14. Boston said this week he’s not sure that his star player will wait that long, with all the phone calls and text messages and Zoom meetings adding up.

There’s still a perception in recruiting circles that it’ll be tough for any program — even Kentucky — to pull Collins away from Big 12 country, but Boston said they’ve had that conversation, and the top-10 recruit is willing to move farther away from home if the situation is right.

“In the end, it’s going to come down to what’s best for him, as far as his ultimate goal,” Boston said. “And that’s to make that next step (to the NBA). Well, Kentucky is the No. 1 place for that.

“You go to Kentucky — and you’re going to get a chance to play in the NBA. … You have to seriously think about it.”


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