Lyria Collins gave her son the world.
Military travel took the family to places such as Gaum and Turkey. When her career was over, a permanent address in Florida gave John Collins the chance to pursue his dream to become a professional basketball player.
The Hawks chose Collins with the 19th pick in last week’s NBA Draft. The forward from Wake Forest was available to a team that had him ranked much higher on its draft board. The journey now belongs to Collins. A mother’s job — at least for setting the path — is done.
“I always promised him. I said, ‘You traveled the world. When Mommy is finished, I’m going to focus on you and your career,’” Lyria said at Collins’ introductory news conference in Atlanta last week.
Collins’ parents were both in the military, Lyria in the Air Force and John in the Navy. Collins was born in Utah. For a while, when he was 1, the family was separated while John served in Washington state. They were reunited with joint military orders to Guam on a base that housed both branches.
They stayed until Collins, an only child, was 3. Lyria then received special orders that took her to Turkey and mother and son were off again. John returned to Washington.
It became a three-way split after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As a non-combatant, Collins had to leave the foreign base. Lyria sent her son to live with her family in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Collins stayed with his grandparents in the territory for a year. The family was again reunited in Washington on a base near Tacoma where they stayed for nearly nine years.
Collins said he remembers some of his stay in Turkey.
“I got perspective on life from an early age,” Collins said.
During her military tenure, Lyria took her son other locales such as Cyprus, Greece and France.
“Mommy loves to travel,” Lyria said.
Lyria and John eventually divorced. When Lyria retired in 2010, she chose Florida for a home state. There, she began taking Collins, then almost 13, to basketball tryouts, practices and tournaments.
Lyria said her son, even at age 5, said he would one day play in the NCAA Tournament and the NBA. Competitive basketball began when he was 7 on the base in Washington. But it was in Florida, with one big growth spurt, that dream took a turn toward reality.
Lyria remembers like it well. During a cooking lesson one day, Lyria, who is 6 feet, looked at the reflection of the two of them in the microwave oven. Collins was 14 and about to enter high school. Collins also was now taller.
Said Lyria: “I looked up and said, ‘When did you get taller than me?’ He looked up and said, ‘Oh my God! Yes!’”
Collins, now listed as 6-10, played at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was not highly recruited, listed as just a three-star prospect and ranked at power forward as the No. 23 in his class by Scout and No. 36 by ESPN.
“The hardest part for me was knowing how dedicated he was,” Lyria said. “He just never got recognized. Ever. It’s not anger. It’s more like sadness. I know what he was capable of. I know what a good kid he was. He just was never a household name. He always got overlooked.”
Collins slowly began to show up on the radar for college coaches. Wake Forest assistant Randolph Childress saw him in a tournament in Milwaukee. He drew more attention at a Bob Gibbons Tournament. According to Lyria, one coached asked, “Who is the big kid who runs on his toes? He’s so light.”
Wake Forest and Miami became the frontrunners for Collins, who always wanted to play in the ACC. He chose Wake Forest and entered the NBA draft after a sophomore season, when he averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds.
“She’s done a wonderful job of raising her son,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said. “She’s been there with him, for him every step of the way.”
Collins is now a professional basketball player. His dream has come true. Mother and son are about to share another journey.
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