TEMPE – After blowing out the candles on their birthday cake, many people wish for health, money or good fortune to follow them into their next year of life. Arizona State University men’s basketball guard Frankie Collins just wants to bring his positive mental state onto the court and continue his recent form.
Collins celebrated differently Tuesday than most would on their special day. The 22-year-old junior attended practice at Desert Financial Arena and appeared for a media availability in preparation for the 11-7 Sun Devils’ important road trip north, where they face Oregon on Thursday and Oregon State on Saturday.
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Collins was all smiles as he entered the media room just in time to hear some praise from Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley.
“Frankie wants to play defense and he wants to guard, so he takes pride in that,” Hurley said. “He’s got great natural instincts so that’s why you’re seeing where the steal numbers are.”
And his numbers are impressive.
Following Saturday’s 82-67 win and six-steal performance against USC, Collins averages 3.1 steals per game, good for third most in the country, and now has 56 on the season. That number also puts him in elite company as he ranks fourth in the nation for total steals.
Collins has made a serious dent in the single-season program record for steals at ASU. With 11 games of three or more steals now under his belt, he sits exactly 20 behind Lafayette Lever’s 76-steal season in 1982.
“Say someone’s dribbling up the floor, I try to calculate how many dribbles they take,” said Collins, who pledged Wednesday to donate $20 to an elementary school in Sacramento, California for every steal he records this season. “Most of the time it’s just me playing hard, and if I just play hard the ball just finds me.”
In addition to his more scientific approach to poking the ball away, Collins added that there is a mental game at play between him and the opponent as he tries to “take every matchup personally.”
Collins’ defensive prowess is undoubtedly the part of his game that stands out at first sight, but others claim that he brings more to the table in terms of leadership and, at times, a calming effect to his teammates on the court.
“He’s a great leader,” ASU forward Bryant Selebangue said. “He’s always going to tell it to you straight and he’s not going to beat around the bush. He might yell at you just to get that message across, but he cares.”
In a midweek matchup against UCLA on Jan. 17, Selebangue was given one of four second-half technical fouls called against ASU during the height of heated moments during the game. Collins was the first to tell Selebangue to “lock in” by Selebungue’s account, which prevented the on-court situation from escalating.
When it was all said and done, the Sun Devils lost the game, 68-66, handing ASU just its second conference loss in the Pac-12 this season.
“It was the ultimate brutal wake-up call,” Hurley said. “To lose the way we did knowing that we felt we put forth the winning basketball performance, but things outside of basketball prevented us from winning the game. It forced everyone to just say, ‘Guys, we’re not talking to officials anymore, we’re not talking to our opponent.’”
Since that conference matchup, the Sun Devils have taken steps to cut back on emotions during the game. Selebangue gave insight into a new rule in practice that the team implemented Tuesday, courtesy of Hurley and the coaching staff. If players “talk back, yell, talk about a foul” or anything of that nature, they are given a “technical foul” in practice.
“(Hurley) knows how passionate we are,” Selebangue said. “Sometimes it may go out as a certain type of energy that might not be the best in that moment.”
With all of this focus on sticking to the game and limiting costly emotional outbursts, a player with Collins’ mental strength could work wonders down the stretch for the Sun Devils.
“I just have a lot of positive energy … whenever something negative comes I just maintain and be myself regardless of what it is, just look on the bright side,” Collins said.
All of this falls under Collins’ goal to grow in this next chapter of his life. Growing “mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually” is all on the agenda for 2024 as Collins strives to be his best version on and off the court.
ASU is now on a single-game winning streak after its bounce-back game against USC, but whether or not the Sun Devils can emerge victorious in Eugene and Corvallis may come down to discipline.
With 22 candles on his cake, Collins will look to make the most out of the next 13 games of conference play to keep his team on the right track.