THE VOICE is
vibrant, strong, full of life. On Nov. 12, 2005, Jackson Collins left a message
on the cellphone of his son Coleman, a standout junior forward for Virginia
Tech. Last Thursday, three days after his father had succumbed to lung cancer
at age 56, two days before returning to the court in honor of his dad's memory,
Coleman sat in his Blacksburg apartment and listened once more to a recording
he may never erase: "Hey, Coleman, this is Dad. Right now it's 11:45 a.m.,
and I'm getting ready to go home. I'm leaving the hospital in about 15 minutes,
but I just wanted to wish you good luck tonight. See if you could get about 25
and 10, O.K.? I just wanted to let you know that I'm very proud that you're my
son. And you take good care of yourself, O.K.? Love, Dad." � Collins
paused, took a deep breath and exhaled. "That's what I've got to go
on," he said finally. "I've got memories and whatnot, but they're not
really tangible." � Voices, as distinct as fingerprints, can trigger a
flood of emotions. Long before Coleman came to treasure a saved phone message
from his dad, Jackson delighted in Coleman's lively voice on the printed
page--the sometimes provocative, decidedly non-sports-centric op-ed pieces he
writes for the Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech's student newspaper. "Our
father took as much joy from reading Coleman's columns," says Coleman's
brother, Jackson Jr., "as he did from watching him play
My father and I
have fought. We've wrestled. We've cursed each other out. Isn't it funny how
men can curse at the top of their lungs, and they whisper, "I love
you"? ... Even when he says it, and I say it back, it's awkward. I always
sound like I've got a mouth full of Skittles.
-- Coleman Collins,
Collegiate Times, Oct. 12, 2004
For Virginia Tech
the pain this season goes deeper than its 13-12 record, deeper than its faded
NCAA tournament hopes, deeper even than seeing its shot at a win at No. 1 Duke
dashed by a 43-foot heave at the buzzer by the Blue Devils' Sean Dockery.
One of Collins's
roommates, senior forward Allen Calloway, hasn't played since November because
he has a rare form of inoperable soft-tissue cancer. His other roommate, senior
guard Shawn Harris, lost the woman who raised him, his grandmother Madeline
Gill, who died on Jan. 24. Sophomore forward Wynton Witherspoon's mother,
Carolyn, is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and the high school host
mother of Puerto Rican freshman swingman A.D. Vassallo, Becky Carwile, lost her
battle with breast cancer last month.
regularity, Virginia Tech's season has alternated between playing at Wake
Forest one day and attending a wake the next. "Nothing that I've learned in
all my years of coaching prepares you for this," Hokies coach Seth
Greenberg said last week, his voice hoarse. "Coleman's family wants me to
challenge him, but when I do I feel terrible afterward, and I call him six
times to make sure he's all right."
Though he's the
Hokies' leading scorer and rebounder, Collins admits he's had a hard time
concentrating on basketball. He missed four games to visit his father at a
Stone Mountain, Ga., hospice, at Greenberg's urging. The coach regrets not
spending time with his father, Ralph, also a lung cancer victim, in the days
before he died.
Carolyn Brooks-Collins, says writing is "cathartic" for her son, a
dean's list student who will graduate with a degree in film and media theory in
May at age 19. Collins sums up his intellectual tastes in one word: eclectic.
His DVD collection ranges from Rashomon to Caddyshack to An American in Paris,
and he says things such as, "I like the stuff Truffaut wrote on
Hitchcock." Take a ride in his old Lincoln Town Car, and you'll hear a mix
of Ella Fitzgerald, the rap group Goodie Mob and Rat Pack standards by Frank
I can't say I
blame my father for starting to smoke. ... Clark Gable smoked all the time. ...
The Flintstones appeared in an ad for Winston. Smoking was, and still is, a
part of our culture. The major difference is now we know what it does to us. In
the immortal words of those Virginia Slims people, we've come a long way.
-- Coleman Collins,
Collegiate Times, June 24, 2004