INDIANAPOLIS — Frankie Collins has been ready for this opportunity.
Back in December, this very news outlet published a story titled “The transformative effect of Frankie Collins.”
In that Dec. 4 win over San Diego State, graduate starting point guard DeVante’ Jones early-season struggles came to a head. He wasn’t producing offensively and picked up his third foul early in the second half. When Collins subsequently took the floor, Michigan coach Juwan Howard couldn’t remove him; the freshman guard energized the Wolverines en route to a 14-point win.
In the three months since, Jones settled in and became a key cog in Michigan’s offense, relegating Collins to sparse minutes in a reserve role.
But Thursday, the Wolverines’ needed Collins once again, this time more than they ever had. With Jones set to miss Michigan’s Round of 64 game against sixth-seeded Colorado State, its season was more or less in Collins’ hands.
And once again, Collins transformed the Wolverines. When he set foot on the court with six minutes remaining in the first half after a five-minute stint on the bench, he immediately resurrected Michigan’s stagnant offense. The Wolverines outscored the Rams by 21 points from then on in a 75-63 win.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball,” Collins said. “I’ve been working out, practicing, playing basketball my whole life. So if you just go out there not thinking too much and just do the right things and do all the things you’ve learned, then you’ll be okay.”
Early on, Collins wasn’t asked to do too much. He facilitated the offense, but he didn’t attack the basket. When he came back off the bench in the first half, though, he looked like a different player. After two consecutive Colorado State 3-pointers, Michigan found itself down by 15, its season hanging in the balance.
Collins quickly got the Wolverines back on track. In a 12-second span, he converted on an and-one layup and stripped Rams’ forward David Roddy up top for an easy transition dunk, instilling a bit of energy in the lifeless Michigan bench.
“Frankie was just being Frankie,” sophomore center Hunter Dickinson said. “He’s an aggressive guard who is able to get downhill and finish. He was doing that out there. We have full confidence in him to do what he does.”
In the second half, as the Wolverines continued to make their run, Collins repeatedly energized the team. On consecutive possessions he grabbed a loose ball to beat a man in transition for a layup and knocked down a corner 3-pointer to keep the deficit at three — his first since Dec. 18.
“Right now just confidence and stepping up and shooting it,” Collins said “I’m not going to let a team dictate how I play. If they back off, I feel like I can get by you and still make something happen.”
When the news broke on Wednesday that Jones wouldn’t play on Thursday, it seemed as though it would be a huge blow — maybe even costing Michigan its season. After all, Jones has been one of the Wolverines’ best players for the better part of three months now. And as of late, he had taken his game to another level, averaging 16.6 points and 5.8 assists over his last five games.
While Collins hadn’t proven himself like Jones, that didn’t mean he wasn’t capable. He’s still the same four-star recruit who showed he can effectively run the Wolverines’ offense in that Dec. 4 win, and he’s been steadily improving throughout the season. He just hasn’t gotten the minutes to showcase it on a larger scale.
“There are going to be some high-minute games and low-minute games,” Howard said “It just shows you his mental stability and how wired he is. Like he said earlier, he’s played basketball his entire life, so this is not his first rodeo.”
Thursday afternoon, Collins put together the first signature moment of his young college career. When Michigan needed him most, he stepped up. When its season looked to be circling the drain, he delivered. He was energetic, level-headed, driven.