Success always follows Sixers coach Collins

Collins
Collins
Posted: March 09, 2011

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell writes a weekly sports column for the Daily News from a fan's perspective. His column appears Wednesdays.

THEY WERE THE most clutch foul shots in the history of the game of basketball.

The United States had never lost an Olympic basketball game (63-0) - it was our sport - but in the final game of the 1972 Games, we trailed the Soviet Union, 49-48, having come back from a 10-point deficit. Alexander Belov, who would later become the hero in the controversial ending, threw a crosscourt pass that was intercepted. The U.S. defender drove to the basket but was fouled hard. With 3 seconds remaining and the whole world watching, the American stepped to the line, still a little wobbly from the contact.

The supremacy of American basketball was on the line at a time when the Cold War competition between the United States and Soviet Union was intense. He shook off the contact and coolly sank both shots, giving the United States a 50-49 lead.

That American was Sixers coach Doug Collins. In retrospect, it was no surprise that he made both - he was a career 83 percent free throw shooter in college and the NBA. More important, he was one of the great clutch shooters in NBA history.

Many Sixers fans have no recollection of Doug as a player, understandably, because his playing career ended in 1981 when he suffered another in a long line of serious injuries. He was a flat-out great player.

At 6-6, he was to become the prototype of the shooting guard. But he was more than a great shooter, he could run like the wind, could drive to the basket and was incredibly effective in transition.

As a collegian, he played 3 years (freshmen were not eligible back then) and averaged 29.1 points per game for his career. In the 1971-72 season, he averaged 32.6 for Illinois State. To give you a frame of reference, BYU's Jimmer Fredette leads the nation this season with 27.9 points per game and is the best three-point shooter in the country. Doug's average did not have the benefit of three-point goals (the three-point rule was adopted by the NCAA in 1986 and the NBA in the 1979-80 season).

I spoke to coach Collins and he believes the college three-point rule would have added at least four points per game to his average, but in his typical self-effacing style, he also believes the NBA three-point line would not have made a difference, because it was slightly beyond his range.

The Sixers drafted Doug with the first pick in the 1973 draft. He didn't disappoint. He averaged 18 points per game, shot 50 percent from the floor and in less than eight seasons (he only played a full season three times because of injuries) he registered 1,368 assists, 1,339 rebounds, 518 steals and 114 blocked shots.

But best of all, he was a runner. He helped take the Sixers to the NBA Finals twice, the Eastern Conference finals twice and the playoffs six times. The year before he arrived the Sixers were a historically bad 9-73.

As a coach, Doug is still a runner. He has taken essentially the same team that was 27-55 last season and has them playing plus-.500 ball and headed for the playoffs.

The difference - coaching! There's no doubt about it and no doubt that he deserves Coach of the Year. The Sixers are the youngest team in the league with seven of its current nine-man rotation 24 years of age or younger.

So the future is incredibly bright, right? Not necessarily! If the Eastern Conference were as lackluster as it was 5 years ago, the Sixers would be a legitimate contender for the conference championship. But the East has become a beast. You know about the Miami Heat and the so-called Big Three. The Boston Celtics, though aging, are still a genuine powerhouse with their Big Three and a guaranteed future star, Rajon Rondo. The Chicago Bulls are young, and have a very solid lineup and the NBA's MVP in third-year man Derrick Rose. The Orlando Magic also has a strong lineup, depth and a great star in the dominating Dwight Howard. And the Knicks now have their Big Three with Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups.

What do the Sixers have to do to take the next step to compete with the Eastern elite? I asked Ed Stefanski and Collins that question. Both said the team needs help up front, and they believe that our young team will get better and better and that Jrue Holiday will become a legitimate NBA star capable of leading the team to the promised land.

But how can we get that help up front, which is needed especially when you consider our best big man, Elton Brand, is 32? Free agency? Unlikely, because this year's crop is mediocre at best - only Joakim Noah would be a game changer and it's extremely unlikely the Bulls would let him go.

So, I believe our best chance is to watch our young players continue to improve, to keep playing the best defense in the NBA, and to eventually put together a Knicks-like deal, packaging some of our young players for a big man who could take us all the way. In the meantime, Sixers fans, enjoy this scrappy, hustling young team.

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