Decent playground baller
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Topeka, Kansas
THE GREAT ESCAPE
KU freshman guard Sherron Collins discovers that life is a lot different in Lawrence after growing up on the mean streets of Chicago.
By JASON KING
The Kansas City Star
CHICAGO | Some say Sherron Collins’ neighborhood is getting safer, but a few weeks ago, on North Leavitt Street, a girl was stabbed in the temple with a scalpel.
Happened just down the sidewalk from the Chicago Boys and Girls Club, where tonight members of the Kings and Deuces linger on the porch, smoking cigarettes while rehashing the gang fight that erupted a short time ago in the gymnasium.
“You missed it by 10 minutes,” says program coordinator Nick Sanchez, still somewhat out of breath from breaking up the fracas. “This one was pretty bad.”
A block away, on the corner of Damen and Diversey, a middle-aged man paces back and forth, almost to a cadence, never taking more than three steps before reversing his course. He’s babbling to himself and flailing his arms in unpredictable directions, a sign that he may be on crack.
The man holds out his hand as two women approach near the intersection. He asks them for money, but they pretend not to see him as they wave and peer through the window of each passing car.
Treena and Charisma wear white mini-skirts and black leather boots that extend above their knees. They won’t give their last names, but they admit to being prostitutes. Treena, 19, interlocks arms with her friend. They always work together.
“Around here,” she says, “you never go anywhere alone.”
Nearly 600 miles away, at Buffalo Wild Wings in Lawrence, Collins is plowing through a basket of mini corn dogs as he watches a college basketball game. On Saturday he’ll be the one playing on national television when Kansas takes on Texas for the Big 12 title.
Collins, a freshman, is averaging nearly 10 points a game for the third-ranked Jayhawks. Still, as impressive as he’s been on the court, the amazing thing about Collins is that he’s even here.
Here, instead of in jail like his father, a gangbanger who spent most of Sherron’s childhood in prison for selling drugs.
Here, instead of a coffin like his best friend, Cedrick, who was hit in the head with a bullet during a drive-by shooting just 50 feet from Sherron’s front porch.
Here, instead of holed up at his mom’s place back in Chicago, depressed and defeated over the death of his infant son last summer. Born four months early on June 3, Sherron Jr. lived just 10 days before an infection overtook his lungs.
“Sherron’s only 19, but some of the stuff he’s been through — some of the stuff he’s seen — most people will never experience stuff like that in their whole life,” said Walt Harris, Collins’ uncle. “He had every opportunity to let his situation get the best of him.
“But he saw there was a different path.”
Thirty seconds after the door slammed at Apartment 2868, Sherron Collins heard gun shots. And, eventually, screams.
Cedrick Collins (no relation to Sherron) had been hit with a stray bullet moments after walking out of Sherron’s living room at the Lathrop Homes housing complex on the near northwest side of Chicago. By the time Sherron made it outside, his best friend of 10 years was basically dead.
“His hat was lying a few feet away and his head was in a big puddle of blood,” Sherron said. “He moved a little bit, but whenever I tried to get him to talk, he couldn’t say anything.”
A few days later, at a local hospital, Cedrick was taken off of life support. He was 16.
“Sometimes I see interviews on TV or hear people talking about how tough they had it growing up,” Collins said. “I never say anything out loud but, in the back of my head, I’m thinking, ‘You have no clue.’ ”
The book on Sherron Marlon Collins was established early.
Within a year of his birth in March 1987, Sherron had learned to dribble a basketball in front of his walker. By the time he was 9, he was embarrassing grown men in pick-up games at neighborhood picnics.
Sherron’s mother, Stacey Harris, worked two jobs as a certified nursing assistant and rarely came home before midnight. Then there was Dad, who couldn’t offer much support from his jail cell.
Like his son, Steven Collins was once a standout on the Chicago high school basketball scene, playing at St. James against the likes of Windy City legend Tim Hardaway.
Steven, though, dropped out of school his junior year. He eventually joined a gang and began selling drugs, a trade he practiced even after fathering Sherron and his older brother, Steve.
“We were living in the projects, but we had all the nice clothes and all the latest video games,” said Steve Collins, now 21 and a student at West Valley College in San Jose, Calif. “But he was never there for us. He was never that male figure we needed because he was in and out of prison.
“People in the neighborhood called him the Gym Shoe Daddy, because buying Sherron and me gym shoes was the only way he knew to show us love.”
Even with their father incarcerated and their mother busy with two jobs, Sherron and his brother felt safe in their surroundings during their elementary school years. Each day after school they went straight to the Boys and Girls Club, where you couldn’t touch a basketball until you’d completed your homework.
Steve said the Boys and Girls Club is paying his college tuition, and Sherron shudders when he thinks of what he may have become had his mother not walked him through those doors more than a decade ago.
“In a lot of ways,” Sherron said, “you could say that club saved our lives.”
Still, while he felt safe inside the walls of the Boys and Girls Club, nothing could protect Sherron from what he saw outside.
By the time Sherron reached junior high school, the feeling of safety that existed in the projects had all but vanished. From the Kings to the Deuces to the Stones, gangs of every race were growing right along with the crime rate. It was impossible to ignore.
One morning Sherron could open his door and see men slicing a tattoo off the chest of a rival gang member. Other times things got even more violent.
“I still remember that maroon Suburban,” Steve said. “A bunch of guys would jump out and everyone would yell, ‘Get down!’ We’d start hearing shots. I’d look up and people were running past Sherron and me, shooting.
“They didn’t even look at us because we were so young. They just kept chasing people through the neighborhood with those guns.”
It all became too much for Stacey Harris. Disheartened by the murder of Cedrick Collins, she moved her family into a Madison Avenue apartment on Chicago’s west side.
That neighborhood wasn’t any better, and the situation only got worse.
Stacey said she experienced the scare of her life shortly after settling into her new home. Around midnight Sherron’s friend, Bobby Fisher, stormed through her door and told her someone was trying to rob her son.
When Stacey ran outside she found Sherron’s blue Los Angeles Dodgers cap lying in the street.
“I thought someone shot him,” Stacey said. “I thought he was dead.”
And Sherron easily could’ve been had he not fled when a man hopped out of the driver’s seat of a car and brandished a gun. Sherron said the man slipped on the icy road, which gave him a head start on a chase through the neighborhood. Eventually Sherron flagged down a stranger, who gave him a ride back to his apartment.
After that Sherron began spending more and more time at Uncle Walt’s house. As for his mother and that place on Madison Avenue?
“I picked up and moved back in with my mother in the suburbs,” Stacey said. “I’d seen all I needed to see.”
Lunch trays and aluminum chairs flew through the Crane High School cafeteria during a 200-person, gang-related melee.
Even if he wanted to, Collins couldn’t have gotten involved.
“I knew all of the security guards,” Collins said. “One of them grabbed me and told me to go home. Everyone there made sure I stayed out of trouble.”
People have always looked out for Sherron Collins. Not just administrators, relatives and mentors, but gang members and drug dealers, too.
In elementary school he was known simply as “the kid who could play basketball.” So impressive was Collins on the court that some of the neighborhood’s most-feared hoodlums would show up at the Boys and Girls Club to watch his sixth-grade games.
It was the same way in high school, where Collins was popular with everyone from the student body president to the kid who’d try to fight you if you looked at him the wrong way in the hall.
That’s the thing about Collins: The people that laud him for steering clear of mischief also realize he probably couldn’t have joined a gang or gotten involved in the drug game if he had tried. And it was all because of basketball.
“If you’re a ballplayer in Chicago, you’re off limits to that kind of stuff,” said Anthony Longstreet, Collins’ high school coach. “It’s an unwritten rule: Gangs don’t draft ballplayers. Those guys are left alone.”
Collins put it more simply.
“They didn’t mess with me,” he said. “They respected me and what I was trying to do.”
Before he ever played a game at Crane, word of Collins’ prowess on the basketball court had spread throughout the city. Stacey Harris said coaches used to “flood” the nursing home where she worked, trying to persuade her to enroll Sherron in their high school.
“Until then I didn’t know seventh-graders got recruited,” Stacey said.
Eventually Collins picked Crane off of a list that included Westinghouse and Simeon. Longstreet had worked with NBA All-Star standout Kevin Garnett back in the mid-90s, and the year before Collins enrolled he’d sent Will Bynum, one of the country’s top guards, to Arizona.
“The first time I saw him play I was like, ‘Oh my God!’” said Longstreet, who made Collins a four-year starter. “He was Will Bynum all over again. The crossover, the strong body, the aggressiveness. It was like they were long-lost brothers.”
Collins found a mentor in Longstreet, who handled his college recruitment. His time at Crane also saw him grow closer to his uncle, who he’d considered a father figure since childhood.
Collins began to appreciate his uncle more and more. He moved in with him as a junior and, for the first time in his life, had to abide by a strict set of rules. No phone calls past 10, only one house guest per night, curfew on the weekends.
It was the kind of guidance Collins never received from his father — and it was almost taken away when Walt had a liver transplant in 2004. Harris lifts his shirt to expose a scar that runs from hip bone to sternum on each side.
“I called him at 4:30 in the morning as I was going into surgery,” Harris said. “I said, ‘Hopefully I make it out of this, but if I don’t, don’t let that stop you. Let it push you more and more. I want to be able to celebrate with you, but if I can’t you push forward. You go on with your life.’ ”
“I’ve tried to help that kid,” he said, “but in a lot of ways he helped me.”
Before he shoots each free throw, Sherron Collins glances at the tattoo on his right forearm. Below a pair of clasped, praying hands are these words: “Sherron Jr. R.I.P.”
His stint as a father lasted fewer than two weeks, but during that time, it would have been tough to find a dad as proud as Collins. He phoned Longstreet so the coach could hear the baby crying through the receiver. Callers who were sent to Collins’ voicemail were treated to the song “Daddy” by Juelz Santana.