A first-grader watching his father’s high school practice, Nick Collison spotted a ball on the opposite side of the court. Unaware a turnover had players streaking back to the other end, little Nick sprinted onto the court.
"One of my players flattened him, ran right over him,” said his father, Dave. "Because he was always at practice, he was a kid that very much looked up to the high school kids. He would mimic things they did, what shoes they wore, their shots, everything.”
One of only three McDonald’s All-Americans Iowa has produced and an All-American at Kansas, Nick Collison is a savvy NBA veteran with the Oklahoma City Thunder who makes plays that don’t show up on a stat sheet, the consummate example of a fundamentally sound coach’s kid.
"Nick never gets the credit he deserves,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "He’s an intangible player, the type player every team wants someone like him on their team.”
Those intangibles include saving a ball from going out of bounds, tipping the ball so a teammate can grab a rebound or setting the perfect screen to give a teammate a wide open shot — fundamentals taught by his father, a high school coach in Iowa for 21 years.
Nick always begged his dad to open the gym and when that wasn’t an option, he organized pickup games.
Attending his father’s basketball camps and countless one-on-one instruction sessions in the gym were invaluable. Father and son also watched college games together on TV.
"He didn’t preach to me a lot,” Nick said. "He taught me about being a good teammate, a good player, what a coach expects. He was a huge help growing up, taught me how to play. I learned how to play the game the right way at a young age.”
Dave, 54, coached during Nick’s formative years for 11 seasons at Saint Edmond Catholic in Fort Dodge, Iowa, a town of 28,000.
"It was really good for Nick,” Dave said. "He could play in the YMCA league in the second grade on 7-foot baskets, play pickup games in the park. He always played against older kids, going against high school kids when he was in junior high. That was good for his development.”
His development was so advanced one opposing junior high coach instructed his players to overplay Collison to the left thinking he was left-handed.