ATLANTA (Nov. 16) — Heading into the 1999-2000 collegiate basketball campaign, Georgia Tech will count on a tall force in senior power forward Jason Collier (Springfield, Ohio). With high hopes of a return to the NCAA Tournament, the talented 7-footer could just be the determined team leader to get Tech there.
“Coach [Bobby] Cremins has placed an emphasis on me being a harder working inside player,” said Collier, who possesses excellent perimeter skills for a big man. “I’ll do what Coach wants me to do. He’s been there, he’s seen how players and teams make it and I’ll do what he wants me to do.”
Collier will lead the Jackets into the start of the season as the team hosts Mercer Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald’s Center. The Jackets will be looking to be bounce back from a 15-16 season a year ago in which they finished tied for fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and earned a bid to the National Invitation Tournament.
One key improvement will be the refinement of Collier from a smooth-shooting face up player to more of an inside power player to compliment his all around game. Collier has been working with new coaching staff addition and former Tech player Willie Reese to employ more power moves around the bucket and concentrate on interior defense and rebounding.
“The coaches had me working on my inside game during the summer and pre-season,” said Collier, who was both a Parade Magazine and McDonald’s all-America coming out of Catholic Central High School.
“They have stressed working hard inside the paint and establishing good position. Coach knows I can score around the basket and I need to maintain a strong mentality. My mentality sometimes isn’t as strong as it needs to be, so this summer I have worked on being tougher and stronger inside the paint.”
Along with working with Cremins on the mental aspects of his game, he has worked hard in the weight room to add needed muscle mass. Combining an improved diet and weight work to add strength to his shoulders, back and legs, Collier has bulked up from 240 to 255 pounds for this year. Last season, a stomach ulcer, a sprained foot and a high ankle sprain didn’t allow Collier to operate at full strength.
Nevertheless, he finished as the team’s high scorer with a 17.2 per game scoring average, which ranked him fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He garnered second team all-ACC honors and in ACC contests only, was first in the league with an 18.8 per game average. After helping spark Tech to the NIT, he has entered this year by being voted a finalist for both the John Wooden and James Naismith National Player of the Year awards.
“Jason went through a lot in his first season with us,” said Cremins, who enters his 19th season on the Flats with a 341-220 record as the Yellow Jackets mentor.
“He battled through an ulcer and several leg injuries and still did a great job for us. He is a great kid who has a tendency to get down on himself. You have to keep your confidence in this league. Jason just has to keep the faith and believe he is a great player. He was one of the top high school players coming out of high school, and I think he wants to get that recognition back and I hope he does.”
Collier could become a legitimate contender for ACC Player of the Year and first team all-ACC honors if continues to improve upon his play. During Tech’s first two exhibition games this season, he contributed 13 points and 12 rebounds against Athletes in Action, and registered 26 points and 16 rebounds versus the California All-Stars. He converted 14-27 field goals (51.8%) and hit 9-13 free throws and most importantly, grabbed 29 total rebounds. His development as a 20-point per game scorer and a consistent rebounder and interior defender could spell big things for the Jackets.
“Personally, I want to get back to the NCAA Tournament and would love to reach the Sweet 16,”said Collier. “I have been to the NCAA Tournament once with Indiana and haven’t been with Georgia Tech yet. It would be a great accomplishment for me, the team and this Institute.”
To do so, what will it take for Tech to reach the bracket of 64?
“We are going to have to put forth a lot of heart,” said Collier. “Everybody on this team is going to have to show up and put out the same effort every night. It is hard when you are not winning, but it becomes easy when you are winning. If we can get a quick start and play well, our confidence will come and should become comfortable with each other.”
That confidence started to show against the California All-Stars as the team cut a 19-point deficit to single digits, but couldn’t get over the hump before falling 95-85 to a veteran-loaded team.
“I thought that we played really well the last 30 minutes against the California All-Stars,” said Collier. “It was a learning experience and we played well, but we burned up a lot of gas cutting the deficit down. Rallying and showing we can play well should be a spring board for us into the season.”
As Tech begins a new year with aspirations of snapping a three-year drought from the Big Dance, Collier is looking forward to being one of the team’s guiding forces to a successful year.
“I am not worried about personal stuff such as honors,” he said. “If everybody plays well and we win, the personal stuff will come.
“The focus is to have this team to play well.”