Talking with Darren Collison
There is, to say the least, a pretty vast difference in competition between the NBA's Summer League, which wrapped up Sunday and is filled with top draft choices, some good second-year players and a whole lot of chaff, and the NBA's fall edition filled with, like, Kobe Bryant and stuff. So it's important to take everything you see there with a grain of salt. That said, in my very limited chance to watch former UCLA/Rancho Cucamonga product Darren Collison play last weekend -- about 18 minutes of burn against T-Wolves lottery pick Jonny Flynn before he suffered a minor ankle injury -- and thought he looked good (as did others), and for the week Collison posted some strong stat lines.
I caught up with Collison for a few minutes Saturday afternoon.
Q: Summer League obviously isn't quite the same thing as what you'll see in the fall, but it's still your first taste of the NBA life and NBA competition. What has been your impression?
Collison: It's been crazy. Just learning how to play the system, it's a lot different than college. Especially playing (the same system) for four years. But playing for four years at the second-highest level can get you ready for this level in ways. The game is a lot slower and a lot more paced out, and there's still a lot of things I've got to learn, but all in all it's a lot of fun.
Q: Especially playing for Ben Howland, where things are really slow and paced out.
Collison: Definitely, but the thing about Coach Howland is that he emphasizes defense. It comes a long way when you're playing with Coach [Byron] Scott, because that's what he's going to emphasize himself. It's a good thing to have played with [Howland]. He's always going to tell you things to help you improve, and he's done that.
Q: You're going in to back up who I think is the best point guard in the NBA in Chris Paul. He plays long minutes, for good reason. Have you talked at all with the coaching staff about what your role will be? How you fit in?
Collison: Not really, not as of right now. I can't tell you how many minutes I'm going to play, but I can tell you my game. Just to come off the bench and give that spark. Try to make the second string a lot faster than it was last year. I think they're trying to get more stability in that second string, because whenever Chris Paul went out they didn't have anybody to really run the offense and push up-tempo. I want to, if possible, make things a little faster than how they were playing but not lose sight of the way the game is being played since Chris is coming out.
Q: When the Hornets drafted you, what was your reaction? Were you excited to get a chance to play with Paul, or wondering how much you'd actually get on the floor because you'd be backing him up?
Collison: Well, my natural reaction was just with being drafted, period. You don't tend to worry about who you're going to be playing with or who you're going to be playing behind. My natural reaction was just the fact that I got drafted, since there was so much hard work that came into it. I was just excited. Then after, when it was all said and done I was like, "Okay, I'm playing behind Chris Paul." Which is not a bad thing. If I want to become a great point guard in this league, I'm going to have to learn from one of the best.
Q: Were you happy in the end with the decision to stay in school for your senior year? I know you considered leaving a year before.
Collison: Yeah. Getting drafted, playing behind Chris, you can't be any more excited. This is a great feeling, and I'm in a great situation. This is a pick-and-roll system, which is good for me. All of my years at UCLA were successful. I had a lot of fun at UCLA, and it paid off. I tried to win a national championship for the school, and unfortunately couldn't, but they're in good hands. But when it's all said and done, I think I made the right decision.
Q: Where do you feel that last year benefited you? Where did you improve?
Collison: Maturity as a point guard. How to get others involved, how to get myself involved. The game has slowed down a lot more, and just attacking at all times. I notice that every good player that I've seen so far, his attack has been real successful, so I've tried to do that.
Q: Playing in Vegas, you've had a chance to match up against some good point guards. Jonny Flynn with Minnesota, Nick Young [Washington] has played well, and so on. What have you been able to pick up from these matchups? Who has been fun to play against?
Collison:I thought Jonny was cool to play against. He's a small point guard, but is real quick and deceptive. He can really get others involved. I just try to pick up things against anybody. I played against [San Antonio's] George Hill in my first game. He's experienced, and probably one of the best point guards I've played so far. There's a lot of things I can learn from everybody. These guys, they've been there before and I just want to take a little from every point guard, and take it with me.
Q: A lot of your former teammates are here. Josh Shipp playing with the Bulls, Alfred Aboya is playing, and so on. Is it strange to see guys in different uniforms?
Collison: It's kind of weird, but at the same time it's exciting. You see guys do well and it rubs off on you and becomes contagious, because you know if he can do well than I can do well because we played with one another. We're all good people off the court, we're all good friends off the court, and it's real encouraging when we see one another have success.
Q: I'm sure you're pulling for them, since those guys are in a different spot than you [Collison was a first-round pick, while his former teammates were in Vegas trying to earn invitations to training camp or work their way onto a roster].
Collison: Yeah, every situation is different. Look at Russell [Westbook, drafted last year by Oklahoma City]. Kevin [Love, now in Minnesota] and Luc [Richard Mbah a Moute, playing for the Bucks], they're situation is different from us. Josh and Lorenzo [Mata Real], their situation may be different than mine, but at the same time they're all going to have their opportunities, and when they do I think they're going to milk that process.
-- Brian Kamenetzky
Photo: Darren Collison at a press conference in New Orleans. Credit: Associated Press