Changing of the guard: ASU men’s basketball transfer Frankie Collins emerges as team’s leader

Arizona State Sun Devils guard Frankie Collins, who transferred from Michigan in the offseason, filled up the stat sheet in Wednesday’s 63-59 win against VCU at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn. The Sun Devils upset the Wolverines Thursday to earn the tournament’s trophy. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images)

TEMPE – The short career of ASU men’s basketball starting point guard Frankie Collins came full circle Thursday night, when the Sun Devils took on his former team, No. 20 Michigan, in the Legends Classic championship at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

After transferring from the Wolverines in the offseason, the sophomore Collins entered the contest averaging team-highs in minutes played (34), points (16) assists (4.8) and steals (2.3) over four games for the Sun Devils, one season after averaging only 2.8 points, 1.4 assists, 0.4 steals in 11 minutes per game in the 31 games he played for Michigan.

Collins was plagued by foul trouble in Thursday’s matchup and finished with only four points, five assists, two steals and three rebounds. However, the team that he has shouldered the weight for so many times this season returned the favor big time in the Big Apple, as the Sun Devils (4-1) pulled off a huge 87-62 upset over the Wolverines (3-1), ASU’s largest margin of victory ever over a ranked opponent.

Collins had Thursday’s date circled on his calendar since May, when he tweeted “Nov 16 if im correct ha… LETS WORK @SunDevilHoops“ to announce his commitment to the Sun Devils, but he told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM there were no hard feelings for Michigan.

“It was fun,” said Collins. “I practiced … (and) played with (Michigan) all year last year, so it was fun just to go out there, compete, get to see some old friends, old coaches and stuff like that.”

Even with Collins’ averages last season, coach Bobby Hurley and several Arizona State men’s basketball players have raved about their new point guard’s abilities and what he has brought to the team since the offseason.

“I think it takes some pressure off me knowing I got a guy out there that is going to control things and get guys involved, keep guys happy,” Hurley said of Collins in October.

Before the season started, Collins said that he has been motivated by what people have said about him.

“I kind of didn’t play as much as I expected last year, so I kind of have a chip on my shoulder,” Collins said. “A lot of people will say, ‘I can’t do things or I can’t do this or I can’t lead the team,’ whatever it happens to be, so I’m just here to prove myself right.”

It was evident from the first game that Collins would have a huge impact on the Sun Devils.

In a starting lineup where every other player had two or more years of college experience, Collins led the way for the Sun Devils in their 62-59 victory in the season opener against Tarleton State with 21 points, four assists, three rebounds, three steals and a block. Other than rebounds, Collins either tied or set career highs in each of these categories right off the bat in his Sun Devil career.

“I think I did a good job with trying to get people involved and playing downhill, being a dog defensively,” Collins said after the Nov. 7 game. “I just think if I limit my turnovers and make free throws, then the game will be a lot better and be a little bit more efficient.”

Collins shot the ball 24 times in his debut, making eight of the shots. He went 4-11 on 3-pointers in the game after only making three in the entire season last year, but said he was “just doing whatever I had to do for us to get to win,” something he has stayed true in every game for the Sun Devils.

Collins only attempted four shots in the Sun Devils’ second game, a 84-68 win over NAU, but had eight assists, showing off the versatility in his game.

“I thought Frankie picked his spots very well, just when to look for his own shot and finding his teammates,” Hurley said after the NAU game. “He, I think, showed what we’ve been seeing out of him for months now, and I think there’s still a ton of potential there.”

Added junior guard DJ Horne: “I think this team definitely has a lot of weapons and Frankie, he had it going in the first game and today he was impacting a different stat line today. And I think that’s what’s gonna be important and different for this team this year. Given the opponent on that given night, it depends on how we go out there and play and the whole game plan and everything.”

Horne’s statement has held true for the whole team, and Collins has continued to make a difference for the Sun Devils in many different facets.

In the next game on the road against Texas Southern, Collins did all he could in a losing effort, scoring or assisting on all of ASU’s nine points in the overtime period.

Then, ASU found itself down 11 points to VCU in the first round of the Legends Classic Wednesday, but Collins willed the Sun Devils back from the big deficit, recording 14 points and three assists in the second half alone to lead ASU to a 63-59 victory.

Now following the wire-to-wire win over Michigan, Collins and ASU hoisted the Legends Classic trophy, and after only five games Collins experienced a historical win for the Sun Devils that just so happened to be over his former team.

“It means a lot to our program,” Collins said. “We’ve been down (for) a few years, so now for us to get a win like this in a neutral site and tournament, two back-to-back wins (where) we came together and just played for one another, it’s great for us.”

The 6-foot-1 Collins already appears to be next in the lineage of great guards under one of the best college guards of all time in Hurley. Some still refer to ASU as “Guard U” after Hurley gave the nickname to the 2017-18 team that featured Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, Kodi Justice and Remy Martin.

Even with everyone that has come before him, Hurley said earlier in the offseason that Collins is “different than (he’s) had” at the guard spot than in the past because of his athleticism.

“He’s probably the best I’ve had at being a pure point guard and just getting others involved,” Hurley added. “I know the guys love being on his team because he finds people and he’s thinking about playing like a point guard and, and then he’s gonna guard the heck out of the ball.”

Collins has appreciated his time with Hurley after having a former big man in Juwan Howard as his coach in his one season at Michigan.

“It’s different because I think there’s more of an understanding I can get with my coach,” Collins said. “Coach Hurley can show me different situations and different things he sees as a guard, other than like a bigs coach where he’s played the big position, although he’s played with great guards and stuff like that. But just getting it from the coach’s perspective as a guard, that helps a lot more.”

Under Howard, Collins and Michigan reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament as an 11-seed. The point guard started his first career game in the opening round of the tournament and helped pull off an upset over 6th-seeded Colorado State, posting a then career-high in points with 14. He played 30 minutes the next game in another upset against No. 3 Tennessee to contribute in the Wolverines advancing to the Sweet 16, where they would fall to Villanova.

“(My tournament experience) is gonna help a lot,” Collins said. “Because I mean, at the end of the day, they (the Sun Devils) haven’t been there for a few years, so this is where they want to go. So like, not to toot my horn or anything, I have been there and I played there. (I have) an understanding of what it takes to get there and what we got to do and how big the stage is and helping everybody understand that.”

In high school, Collins was a four-star recruit and the number seven point guard in the 2021 class, according to 247 Sports. Before MoonLIT Madness, Collins said that ASU fans have been supporting him since high school when the Sun Devils were recruiting him and that he couldn’t wait to get in front of them.

“(Collins) was a very decorated player coming out of high school and played in the NCAA tournament last year, so he got that experience,” Hurley said at Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day. “He’s dynamic. He’s a super athlete … Guys enjoy playing with him, because he’s getting people involved and getting them the ball in the right spots. On defense he’s gonna go after you, he’s very athletic, very strong and a very good on-the-ball defender.”

Collins takes pride in his defense, and his defensive ability has been on full display throughout the season, as is evidenced by his effort every time he is on the court and steals average (2.2).

“I’m the leader,” Collins said. “If they (his teammates) see me guarding, diving on the floor for loose balls and taking charges, same with Marcus (Bagley) … then it’s gonna influence everybody else to do it, it’s gonna encourage them to do it. So if they go out there and see it, it’s like, ‘Okay, they can do it, then why wouldn’t we do it?’”

His ASU teammates praised their point guard throughout the last month of practice.

After helping recruit Collins to ASU over the summer, Bagley said his “presence has been felt since he stepped foot on campus. (He’s) a natural leader and just a guy that’s easy to follow. He expects a lot out of us … He tries to make us look good and we try to do the same for him. So, I’m happy to have him, and I’m excited to get to work with him.”

Horne, the team’s leading scorer a season ago, said in October that adding Collins gives them what he thinks is the best backcourt in the Pac-12.

“I’m gonna love playing with him,” Horne added at Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day. “Just taking some of that pressure off me and not feeling like I have to do everything myself or do a lot of things myself sometimes. Just having that extra help at the guard position will be nice.”

In addition to a dynamic backcourt, Collins said the length of this year’s team allows him to strategically place the ball in spots that the defense can’t get it. He added that he is still working, but gaining more of an understanding of the pick-and-roll offense with bigs like senior Nevada transfer and starting center Warren Washington.

“Playing with someone like Frankie, honestly, he makes your job easy,” Washington said. “He’s always facilitating, always getting guys open.”

Collins said before the season the goals of utmost importance to him are the team’s goals, most importantly winning, but he also has personal goals of being First Team All Pac-12, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and getting some awards for being a top point guard.

Fast forward to now, Collins already has a huge win under his belt early in his Sun Devil career and said the victory over Michigan sent a message about ASU’s program.

“Don’t count us out because we’re here.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Brendan Mau expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Mau has interned as a sports reporter with Times Media Group.