Mardy Collins’ cell phone wouldn’t stop ringing Wednesday night.
After being drafted 29th overall by the New York Knicks, Collins heard from extended family, close friends and former teammates. Anyone who ever knew him at any stage of his career was calling to wish him the best.
But one call meant the most to him. And it wasn’t the one he received from his agent Leon Rose just before the Knicks drafted him.
It was the one from John Chaney.
“Everybody was calling, but when I heard his voice on the other end of the line, I knew it was an important call,” Collins said by telephone Thursday from New York. “He busted into tears and cried, and told me he was so proud of me. There’s no way to sum up how much that call meant to me and how much he means to me.”
Collins is likely the newly retired Chaney’s last recruit to be drafted into the NBA. He became Temple’s first NBA Draft choice since 2000, when Mark Karcher went to Philadelphia.
No Owl had been selected in the first round since 1994, when Eddie Jones went to the Los Angeles Lakers and Aaron McKie to Portland with the 10th and 17th choices, respectively.
The Knicks saw a deft ball-handling ability in Collins that Chaney had seen five years ago when the coach watched Collins play for Philadelphia’s Simon Gratz High.
“Coach knew I was a point guard from the moment he saw me,” Collins said “but the one thing he did for me was give me a chance. “That chance has gotten me where I am now.”
Pro teams told the 6-6 point guard in the weeks leading up to the draft that the point wasn’t his true position. He also heard that he was somewhere between a guard and a forward, but not one or the other.
Collins waited by the TV on Wednesday night. Then he waited some more. When his name was called late in the first round, he could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
But there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Because of his long and lean build, Collins is an anomaly. By most estimates, he’s too big to be a conventional NBA guard, but far too small for the forward positions.
Collins accepts that he has to continue working hard if he is to find success in the NBA. But receiving a guaranteed contract and staying close to home has the Philadelphia native elated.
“It’s good to get the guaranteed deal but that doesn’t mean you can stop working,” Collins said. “It means I have to prove to the Knicks that I’m just as good as everyone else.
“I’m two hours away from everyone at home. They can all come up and see me. That means a lot, too.”
Hours after he was drafted, the Knicks posted on their Web site a statement by coach Isiah Thomas, who said the team drafted Collins for his combination of size, defense and management of the point.
“Mardy is a guard who can defend, and he’s a ball-mover,” Thomas said in the statement. “He has a good feel for the position he plays. He is a distributor. He can play with [Stephon] Marbury, he can play with [Steve] Francis, he can play with [Nate] Robinson. With his unique size, he can defend and he’s great at forecasting plays.
Toward the end of his senior season, it didn’t look like Collins’ story would have such a happy ending. But Collins’ life went from horribly tragic to incredibly satisfying in the course of one week.
He had sidestepped serious injuries while at Temple. He played with pain in big games and in relatively insignificant ones as a senior, when he led the Owls in scoring, assists and steals on a swollen foot.
In his last game as an Owl – a season-ending loss to Akron March 14 in the National Invitational Tournament – Collins hit the Liacouras Center floor with a thud. After coasting in for an unassisted, fast-break layup, Collins collided with an Akron player in midair and fell to the hardwood.
Following a 20-minute period when he lay motionless, Collins was taken out of the arena on a stretcher and to Temple University Hospital. Collins, who suffered a neck injury on the play, was released days later, just before the most important moment in his life.
Seven days after sustaining the injury, Collins and fiancee Ari Moore (a former standout basketball player at Temple) welcomed their first child, son Madden, into the world.
While being drafted rivaled the thrill of experiencing Madden’s birth, nothing was quite like holding his son for the first time.
“[The draft] was an exciting moment for me, but you can’t compare anything to becoming a father,” Collins said. “I knew I would some day, but never this early. Everything was so new to me when he was born, but I’m so proud to be a father.”
After meeting with Knicks’ officials on Thursday, Collins will board a plane headed for Las Vegas Saturday, where he will participate in an NBA summer league beginning July 6.
After starting every game in his Temple career, the 21-year-old Collins indicated that he likely would come off the bench for the Knicks next season.
“I don’t care if I’m the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth or 10th man. I’ll do whatever they tell me to do to help the team,” Collins said.
Before meeting with the Knicks on Thursday, Collins received another call on his cell phone. It was Chaney, again.
“He wanted to walk me through how to address the media and how talk to the people upstairs with the Knicks,” Collins said with a laugh. “He almost cried again, he was so proud.
“He told me that I will be making my family, my son, his mother and him very proud.”
Lower Merion guard commits
Ryan Brooks, a physical guard-forward combo from Lower Merion High, announced that he will attend Temple in the fall to play for coach Fran Dunphy and the men’s basketball team.
Brooks made the announcement Thursday afternoon alongside family and friends at Lower Merion’s gymnasium. The 6-4 native of Narberth, Pa., was the team captain for Lower Merion, which finished 28-6 this season and won the PIAA Class AAAA State Championship in March.
Brooks was the Aces’ scoring leader, tallying 19.7 points per game. In Lower Merion’s five-game state playoff run, the honor-roll student improved his scoring average to 23 points. He also paced the Aces in three-point shooting, knocking down 42 percent of his long-range shots.
It had been reported that Brooks was considering Saint Joseph’s or attending a prep school next season. But when Los Angeles native Matt Shaw rescinded his commitment to Temple in mid June, a full scholarship became available for Brooks.
Brooks now can exchange his high school’s cherry and white jersey for Temple’s.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.