Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bruce Collins

Bruce Collins was in my office today.  

For those of you that don't know, Bruce Collins is likely the best basketball player in the history of Wyoming.   True, Wyoming is the smallest state in the country.  It has only a limited number of decent basketball players.   There are only a handful of players who played at the high school level and went on to any sort of successful collegiate careers.   Kenny Sailors (see link on the originations of the jump shot:, Marcus Bailey, Jaycee Carroll  (see link on Carroll : ) and James Johnson are the main names that come to mind. 

But Collins was likely better than all of them.  Most people even in Rock Springs, Wyoming don't know who Collins is, or let me say it differently, they don't know how good Bruce Collins was.  Over his four year career, Collins scored 2019 points.   Three times Collins was named the most valuable player of the Big Sky Tournament.   Twice he was named Big Sky Most Valuable Player.  Three times he led the Weber State Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament.   The last time, in front of 9000 fans at the Dee Events Center, Collins led the Wildcats past future NBA All Star Michael Ray Richardson and the Montana Grizzlies for a trip to the NCAA Tournament. 

In the 1979 NCAA tournament, Collins led Weber State to a first round win over New Mexico State.  Also on the 1978 and 1979 teams was future UCLA Coach Ben Howland who was named the teams most valuable defensive player both years. 

A year later, 1980, Weber State had the school's best season going 26-2 before losing to Lamar in the opening round of the NCAA tournament by a single point on the Wildcats home floor.  Collins hit 13 of 26 shots in that game and scored 32 points while also grabbing 11 rebounds.  Mike Olliver came off the Lamar bench to score 37 points and the Wildcats fell one point short.  What almost was, a victory in that game would have sent the Wildcats to a second round matchup against Pac 10 Champion Oregon State.   (Lamar pulled the upset themselves beating the Beavers 81-77). 

That season, Weber State was ranked virtually the entire year -- rising as high as 15th in the country as a Big Sky school.  This was the same time that Danny Ainge was leading BYU to prominence and Tom Chambers and Danny Vranes were taking Utah to some of its best seasons.  Lost in the shadows, much of what Weber State and Collins were accomplishing was overlooked.   Weber's only two regular season losses in 1980 came in the opening game at Utah State a loss they avenged only a week later by beating the Aggies in Ogden.   Weber's other loss came during the conference season at Idaho another team the Wildcats beat at home.  .

Also on the 1980 Weber State team was future University of Wyoming assistant women's basketball coach and Rock Spring High School women's coach Gerald Mattinson and a tough minded point guard Mark Mantos.    

During the 1980 season and during Collins career, BYU ignored the Wildcats, refusing to play them, BYU Coach Frank Arnold indicating that such a game did nothing to enhance the Cougars schedule.  Right!  Early in the 1980 season, the Wildcats knocked off Michigan State from the Big Ten.  Later, Collins outplayed future NBA star Sidney Green and led the Wildcats past Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV in Las Vegas.  Utah, led by Danny Vranes didn't ignore the Wildcats that year and lost by twelve points. 

In 1962, Weber State was the first junior college to go from the JUCO ranks to the division I ranks.   A move later duplicated by Boise State and more recently Utah Valley University. 

Collins is still the all time leading scorer in Weber State basketball history.  A position that is becoming more tenuous as the nation's leading scorer Damian Lillard continues his current performance.  Lillard is averaging 26.3 points per game.   See link:  If  he comes back for his senior season Lillard will pass Collins.   Collins points out to me that Lillard may turn pro after this season.   I had not thought of this.  If that happens, Collins record will be safe.  I tell him I'm rooting against Lillard, I hope he turns pro and that his scoring record remains. 

Collins was a second round draft choice of the Portland Trail Blazers, he never played a regular season game for the Blazers but did bounce around professional basketball for a couple of season before returning to his hometown -- Rock Springs, Wyoming where he now works at the Rock Springs family recreation center.

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