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Cool under pressure

Chicago-tough Collins steps up when KU needs it most

Posted: Wednesday December 19, 2007 3:16PM; Updated: Wednesday December 19, 2007 8:18PM
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A game-ending steal and layup from Sherron Collins helped No. 3 Kansas finish off Georgia Tech and remain unbeaten.
A game-ending steal and layup from Sherron Collins helped No. 3 Kansas finish off Georgia Tech and remain unbeaten.
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ATLANTA -- The scream came out at the end. Long and loud and passionate. Sherron Collins let out a yell to release the pressure that had been enveloping his Kansas teammates in the final minutes of Tuesday night's 71-66 victory at Georgia Tech. As the final buzzer sounded, Collins chest-bumped Russell Robinson and No. 3 Kansas walked off Bobby Cremins Court with its undefeated record intact.

But this game wasn't pressure. Not in Collins' world. Growing up in Chicago with crime, drugs, gangs, violence. Losing a son. Having another. A friend shot and killed outside your apartment. That's pressure.

You think two free throws against Georgia Tech with eight seconds left in a one-point game on ESPN is going to bother this guy?

"It is hard to get too rattled out there," Collins said.

After Georgia Tech trimmed Kansas' lead from 13 points with five minutes remaining to one, Collins held the Jayhawks together, knocking down two free throws before sealing the game with a steal and layup on Georgia Tech's final possession.

Collins left Atlanta with the team and headed back to Lawrence, where his apartment was going to be a little emptier than when he left it. Sherron's girlfriend, Re'Quiya Aguirre, and their eight-month old son, Sherr'mari, left for Chicago Tuesday morning after a visit to Kansas.

"After the game, I was like, ahh, he's gone, so he won't be home when I get home, but it'll be all right," Collins said. "I go home Saturday to Chicago for Christmas break, so I'll see him soon. I got Christmas presents for him."

Sherr'mari is Sherron's second son. His first, Sherron Jr., died 10 days after he was born on June 3, 2006. The baby was four months premature, and Sherron was there when he died.

"It tore him up," said his mother, Stacey Harris.

Sherr'mari has brought joy back to Collins, who grew up facing challenge after challenge in Chicago's Julia D. Lathrop housing development. It was a dangerous place for Sherron and his older brother, Steve, to navigate.

"It is basically a community with an invisible 60-foot wall surrounding it," said Jim Pottinger, director of the Daniel A. Cotter Boys & Girls Club Collins used to frequent. "The people within the projects stay there. People outside never enter. It is pretty much all single-parent families with very, very low-income, if any. It is changing now, but when they were growing up, they saw gangs, drugs and violence every single day."

Harris worked two jobs and was rarely home, and the Boys & Girls Club became a refuge for Sherron and Steve from potential trouble. "[Sherron] was there almost 24/7," Pottinger said. "You can't even say it was his second home. It was his first home. He spent more time [at the Boys & Girls Club] than he did at his apartment."

While there is a belief that gangs stay away from recruiting promising athletes because of their potential to succeed, Pottinger says that isn't necessarily true until athletes reach high school.

"At one time, both Sherron and Steve were going on the wrong path in elementary school," Pottinger said. "In seventh and eighth grade, they struggled with their academics. He could have gone the other direction."

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