Maybe John Collins surprised himself.
Collins entered Wake Forest as a three-star recruit two years ago. He averaged just 7.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14 minutes a game as a freshman. That was just the beginning.
Collins took a huge step forward and averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in 27 minutes as a sophomore. He earned All-ACC first-team and ACC Most Improved Player honors. The improvement was so dramatic that Collins declared early for the NBA Draft. Now, he is a professional basketball player.
The Hawks selected Collins with the No. 19 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. The team was convinced Collins was a lottery pick and ranked No. 11 of their draft board. Surely, they figured, he wouldn’t be around at the time of their first-round selection. He was, and Collins made the walk from the audience to the stage to shake NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand and don a Hawks hat at The Barclays Center.
“Not really at the beginning of the season,” Collins said when asked when he thought about turning pro. “For me, it was always a goal to get to the next level. Whatever it happened, it happened. How long it took, whatever the circumstances might be. Obviously, as the year progressed, my play elevated to the point where it starts creeping into your mind.”
Collins, 6-foot-10, 235 pounds, played behind Devin Thomas as a freshman. He still led the Demon Deacons in field-goal percentage (.547) and was fourth in blocked shots (23). Collins said he was challenged by coach Danny Manning, himself a former Hawks player during his NBA career, to do more.
“I took it upon myself to accept that challenge,” Collins said. “There was a spot open that I patiently waited for to step into my sophomore year. The combination of opportunity, luck and preparation. I think I struck on all three of those and did what I needed to do to prove myself.”
Collins led the ACC in field-goal percentage in league play (.639) and overall play (.622) last season. He also ranked second in rebounding and third in scoring in the ACC. He did all his work in the post. He knows he’ll have to expand his game to fit with the Hawks and the NBA. He missed his only 3-point attempt in two collegiate seasons.
“I think I’ve proven to a lot of people that I’m a proven scorer in and around the basket,” Collins said. “I want to be as versatile has possible, shoot the 3, guard multiple positions, make plays. I want to be as versatile as possible so they can put me in as many positions as possible.”
The Hawks also had two second-round picks in Thursday’s draft. They selected Oregon shooting guard Tyler Dorsey with pick No. 41 and French forward Alpha Kaba with pick No. 61.
Dorsey helped Oregon reach the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament before it lost to eventual champion North Carolina. Dorsey (6-5, 183) had the tournament’s highest scoring average, at 23.8 points. He averaged 14.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists as a sophomore last season.
“We go through this thinking he’s got a chance to make the roster,” Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said. “I know we have a lot of guards on the roster, but there are some things we like about his game.”
Kaba played played the past two seasons with the Serbian team Mega Leks in the Adriatic League. He played with Pau-Orthez in France’s Pro A League in 2014-15. Kaba (6-10, 226) averaged 10.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 25 games last season. The Hawks were most impressed with Kaba’s 7-5 wingspan. The plan is for Kaba to play for Mega Leks again next season.