ATLANTA (Feb. 7) – Before Jason Collier could dunk a basketball, he dunked himself into a swimming pool.
It’s hard to imagine now that he stands seven feet tall and weighs 255 pounds, but the Georgia Tech senior actually began his athletic career as a swimmer.
“I didn’t really start liking basketball until I was in the seventh grade because up until that age, I was a year-round competitive swimmer,” says Collier, a native of Springfield, Ohio.
“So, basketball was something that I would do more in my free time. Eventually, I burned out on swimming, so I started focusing on basketball because I felt it was a more creative sport, and I enjoyed being part of a team instead of concentrating so much on individual results. I felt like there were a lot more possibilities in basketball than there would have been in swimming.”
Collier and his Tech (10-11, 2-6 ACC) teammates host a pair of Atlantic Coast Conference games this week at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald’s Center with Virginia Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., followed by third-ranked Duke Saturday at 4 p.m. (ESPN2 and WATL).
Collier’s swimming career had a rather inauspicious beginning.
“I rode my bike down to the pool and joined the swim team,” he recalls. “I hated it at first. I jumped in, said it was too cold, got out and went home. But my mom drove me back down there, pushed me in and then I loved it. I started swimming all year round.”
After that first dunk in the pool, Collier quickly displayed a talent for the sport.
“There was an award given out for most top 16 times in the United States, and out of eight events I had top 16 seven times,” says Collier. “I was competing with guys that went on to the Olympics and beating them at the time when I was younger, so I always sort of wondered what would have happened if I had stuck with swimming.”
“Now I swim laps sometimes for exercise to stay in shape. I’ll get in just to race people every once in a while. A lot of people don’t realize that I used to swim.”
Georgia Tech fans are happy Collier eventually moved from the water to the hardwood because the versatile post player has been the Yellow Jackets’ top performer the last two years. He earned second-team all-ACC honors in his first season in a Tech uniform, and this winter he again is a strong candidate for the all-conference team as well as a nominee for the Wooden and Naismith national player of the year awards.
Bidding to become the first Yellow Jacket to lead the ACC in rebounding, Collier currently ranks first with 9.9 per game, while his scoring average of 17.0 points an outing is fifth in the league. He also ranks among the league leaders in field goal percentage (7th, .489), free throw percentage (10th, .736) and blocked shots (8th, 1.2). Not only does Collier lead the ACC with 11 double-doubles, including six of the last eight games, but he has hit 19 three-pointers.
While displaying his inside-outside game in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Collier has adjusted well to the academics at Georgia Tech and will earn his degree this summer.
“The most interesting class I’ve taken was probably the e-commerce class I took last semester with Dr. [Fred] Allvine,” says Collier, whose father, Jeff, played for the Yellow Jackets in the early 1970s.
“It was a class with no book because it was all new material. It was really interesting to see the new technology and the Internet. That was what really got me hooked on the Internet and computers.
“Now I’m a computer nerd. I love the computer. I spend a couple of hours a day after basketball on it. When there’s not much else to do, I’ll sit down in front of the computer, watch movies, look up sports on the Internet, listen to mp3s, or use my CD burner to make my own music.”
Like many players his age, Collier’s basketball idol is former Boston Celtic great Larry Bird.
“He’s from a small town like myself,” says Collier. “He went to Indiana and left also, though for different reasons. He’s also a bigger guy that played outside and used his talents to the best of his abilities.”
But what’s his time in the 50 freestyle?