THUGS TURN STARS IN PBA

MANILA, April 7, 2004
 
(STAR)
By Joaquin Henson - If you examine the personal backgrounds of Red Bull’s DeAngelo Collins and San Miguel Beer’s Art Long, you probably wouldn’t risk signing them up as imports in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Fiesta Conference.

Both led troubled lives before settling down to take their professional careers seriously.

Take Collins’ case. He never shook off a bad rep for mauling a teammate at Tustin High School in Stockton, California, as a freshman in 1996-97. It was no inconsequential fight. Collins left his battered teammate with permanent head injuries and a fractured nose. The teammate underwent surgery to recover from the beating.

Collins pleaded guilty to felony assault and served six months in juvenile jail. He was also slapped a $35,000 fine. Despite the penalties, Collins went on to commit another 27 documented transgressions in a seven-month span, reported a "Draft Tracker" profile by ESPN.

From Tustin, Collins moved to Inglewood High School. As a junior, he averaged 23 points and 15 rebounds but sat out 12 games due to a knee injury. Collins blossomed in his senior season, hitting at a 28-point clip and prompting his prep coach to swear he’d turned the corner.

Collins thought of enrolling in college and listed Cincinnati, North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan, Michigan State and UNLV as his priorities. But the lure of earning big bucks in the National Basketball Association (NBA) led Collins to forego higher education. He applied for the 2002 draft as an early entry candidate with another high schooler Lenny Cooke.

Neither Collins nor Cooke was picked in the draft.

"Obviously, a young person shouldn’t have to pay for mistakes the rest of his life but Collins’ baggage is significant," said ESPN’s David Aldridge.

Collins was rated the No. 8 high school cager in the US by the Prep Stars Recruiter’s Handbook and played impressively at the 2002 McDonald’s All-America Game where he scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds. At the 2001 Adidas ABCD All-Star Game in New Jersey, Collins hit 23 points and embarrassed Chris Bosh–now playing for the Toronto Raptors.

Without his baggage, Collins would’ve surely been drafted.

Toronto general manager Glen Grunwald offered Collins a chance to try out for the Raptors as a free agent in 2002. He was released because of "problems with his off-court behavior." An NBA source said, "All the Raptors asked of Collins was for him to work hard and try to be a solid citizen but apparently even that was too much for him."

From the Raptors camp, Collins flew to Turkey where he played only a game for Darussafaka Istanbul. Then he saw action in Argentina and the American Basketball Association before replacing Doug Wrenn in the Red Bull lineup.

Collins was hardly a factor in his PBA debut against Ginebra last March 20. He compiled 13 points, five rebounds, two assists, and five turnovers in 19 minutes. Still, Red Bull won, 99-90. Collins improved his stats in his second outing. He had 19 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, three steals and four turnovers in 38 minutes as the Barako tripped Alaska, 95-93, last March 25. In his third appearance, Collins shot 19 points in Red Bull’s 107-102 loss to Coca-Cola last Saturday.

Collins, 23, has been dogged by his reputation, said Bill Harris of the Toronto Sun, and "that may or may not be fair but there’s no denying he has had numerous run-ins with the law."

Collins, however, seems determined to turn a new leaf. A player biosheet from Electronic Arts Sports said he now listens to gospel music, goes to church, likes to read and visits relatives.

Long, 30, was never drafted–like Collins–but played for Sacramento, Seattle, Philadelphia and Toronto in three NBA seasons.

Long’s dark past dates back to 1995 when he figured in a fight that led to a misdemeanor assault charge. He was charged in the incident with punching a police horse. A report claimed the horse fell from the impact of Long’s blow, reminiscent of legendary boxer Roberto Duran’s feat.

While Long was on academic suspension from preseason practice that same year, he was charged with domestic violence for allegedly choking his girlfriend. He missed two early season Cincinnati games against Canisius and Tennessee-Martin then was reactivated. As the season progressed, he played as much as 39 minutes against DePaul and as little as 13 against Xavier. Long fouled out in nine games during the campaign and was only three short of the school record for disqualifications.

Long played only two years for the University of Cincinnati. He was a terror in his first season and a bust in his second. The Jack Sikma-type step-back jumper he used in deadly form in 1994-95 was gone the next season. He shot a poor 54.5 percent from the line in those two years.

"One of Long’s problems was that he never seemed to understand what worked for him, what other players could not stop," wrote Mike DeCourcy in Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. "He was especially ineffective when Cincinnati faced its toughest challenges. In the five defeats in 1996, Long was good for averages of only 4.4 points and 5.8 rebounds on 32.2 percent shooting from the field. When they needed a big rebound or bucket, he was sometimes there, but more often not."

But like Collins, Long has apparently reformed. When he played for Seattle in 2002-03, Long was signed to a $466,000 contract. He has barnstormed in France, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Spain and Greece. Long has also strutted his wares in the Continental league and the National Basketball Development League.

Two years ago, Long was in Manila to play for San Miguel Beer in the Commissioner’s Cup. He teamed with Shea Seals to power the Beermen to a 6-2 record then was injured and replaced by Terquin Mott.

Now, Long’s back to settle unfinished business. He’s emerged as the yardstick of the Fiesta Conference imports. Thanks to Long, San Miguel is the league’s only unbeaten team.

Collins and Long are living examples of troubled inner city players who survived tests of adversity to become professional athletes of consequence.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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