The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 25, 2013

Scott Dudinskie on High School Girls Basketball: Collins loved the game


Daily Item

---- — Enthusiastic.

Prepared.

Genuine.

Did I mention enthusiastic?

That's the impression Southern Columbia girls basketball coach Kevin Collins made when we met in January.

It was a postgame interview, as these introductions often are, and it was engaging. A foundation for a good working relationship.

And it almost didn't happen.

You see, Collins' team suffered its first loss of the season in a staggering way. The Tigers surrendered a 15-point third-quarter lead and ultimately lost by a point.

It was the kind of scenario where, in my experience, it's sometimes best to give the losing coach a pass with a sympathetic nod or "see you next time" wave.

But it was important to me to make Collins' acquaintance, no matter how brief the exchange might be. A handshake, a few pleasantries and a pledge to talk again under better circumstances, rather than rehashing such a devastating loss.

Sounded like a plan.

More than seven minutes later, the interview ended.

"The girls want to be a great team," he said at one point, "so (I ask), 'How are we going to react off this? Are we going to walk into the next game with our heads down or are we ... going to get back on track to where we need to be?'

"My girls are going to be fine. They're going to come back ready to play because they're hungry to win."

I have to say, if I'd heard the same spiel over the phone, it would have buried the needle on my BS meter. I'd have pegged Collins as the used-car-salesman type.

However, there was no question he believed it (eyes being a window to the soul and all that), and so I believed him. If he delivered the message to his players half as earnestly as he did to a reporter he just met, the Tigers would forget the loss before they left the gym.

Collins was nothing if not passionate about coaching, about teaching his players and putting them in a position to be successful.

In the week following that crushing loss, Southern Columbia won three games against playoff qualifiers, punctuated by a thrilling upset of three-time District 4-AA champion Mount Carmel on the Red Tornadoes' floor. Collins called it "one of the best defensive games I've ever been in as a coach or assistant coach" in an obvious moment of pure joy.

In the handful of times we spoke, he'd invariably mention film study, his "great coaching staff," and how much he enjoyed coaching the Tigers. (He'd been an assistant at Southern and Lourdes, and previously coached girls volleyball at Lourdes.) He would talk about those things as though he was describing a hole-in-one, his energy and intensity bubbling over at times and his brain's RPMs tying his tongue.

"I'm a very emotional coach. I yell a lot; I'm into the game. I was a player like that and I coach like that," he told me. "When I was taught by Coach (Mike) Klembara at Lourdes, he said, 'You've got to be your kind of coach.' This is what I like to do. I'm still young. I've been an assistant for a long time."

Collins' impact ranged far beyond the court, as evidenced by the steady stream of reaction to the news of his death across social media platforms that began Tuesday evening.

I always thought one of the saddest things I encounter in this business is the loss of young, enthusiastic high school coaches to outside factors such as clashes with administration, meddling parents, etc. I'd need both hands and most toes to count the number of good people I've seen walk away from coaching because their love for it quickly withered.

In 20 years, though, I'd never been notified of the death of an active coach, much less a person with a full tank of everything you'd want in one.

Indescribably tragic.

Collins leaves a wife, Lori, a starting lineup of five children, and countless immediate and extended family members who will mourn his passing long after funeral services and the basketball season end.

I count them among the lucky ones, those blessed to have spent more time with the man than a few fleeting interviews.

Scott Dudinskie covers girls basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments to sdudinskie@dailyitem.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ScottDudinskie.