About 2 1/2 years ago, two best friends walked into a gym where the Oklahoma City Storm was practicing.
High school dropouts before they were sophomores, the boys had heard the homeschool program could offer them a fresh start in school and in basketball.
Fast forward to the present.
One of the boys just finished a year-long prison term. The other is The Oklahoman’s Super 5 Player of the Year.
Meet Chauncey Collins, the boy who stepped off the path to a destructive life, and now has a Division I college scholarship waiting for him at TCU.
‘It was all about Chauncey’
As a freshman at Millwood, Collins began to realize that there were hardly any consequences for his actions.
He didn’t listen to anyone at home. If problems arose at school, he just didn’t go.
“I was 15, thought I knew everything,” Collins said. “I experienced getting out into the world on my own. My grandma had my other siblings, so it was tough on her. She couldn’t really chase me. So I dropped out of school and did my own thing.
“It was hard, but I was having fun at the time, because I could do whatever I wanted. I felt that freedom. I wasn’t goin’ to school. Teachers couldn’t tell me anything. If I get in trouble, so what? I knew I didn’t have any consequences.”
Some of the people Collins was running with back then have gone to jail for drugs, burglary, and murder. And at the time, there appeared to be no obstacles keeping Collins off the same path.
Collins had no plans to return to school for his sophomore year. But that summer, he and his friend were in a gym looking for a pickup game when they ran into Allonzo Trier, who was a freshman for the Storm at the time.
Trier encouraged them to meet with Storm coach Kurt Talbott.
“Chauncey was this kid who had no guidelines in his life,” Talbott said. “He was gonna live his life, do what he wanted to do, and nobody could tell him what to do.
“It was all about Chauncey.”
Talbott offered him the opportunity to be part of the basketball program, but he immediately installed some barriers for Collins’ life.
Do what you’re told. Keep up with your school work. Stay out of trouble.
As for basketball, Collins was restricted to junior-varsity games as a sophomore.
“After I met Kurt, about a week later, I was staying at his house,” Collins said. “He said you gotta do school, gotta listen. And once I started doing that, it’s been nothing but blessings.”
Blessings, yes. Easy? Not at all.
“It’s been like a crash course in growing up,” Talbott said. “All the growing up a kid does in junior high and the first year of high school, he missed out on that, and we’re still dealing with some of those things now.
“There are mistakes, but he understands accountability now and he accepts it more. But it’s still a work in progress.”
Basketball wasn’t as much of an issue. It kept him engaged in the growing-up process during his sophomore year, because he loved to play, and loved being part of the team.
As a junior, in his first varsity season, Collins averaged nearly 24 points per game, helping the Storm to a homeschool national championship.
This past season, he upped his scoring average to 28.3 and helped the Storm to another homeschool title. He scored 50 points in a January win over Midwest City, and had 58 in the national championship game.
Over his two-year career, he never lost to a homeschool opponent, and was twice named the homeschool national player of the year.
He signed with TCU last November and will head there with a chance to contribute right away on a team in need of a scoring punch.
Honey Gram’s prayers
The Talbott family oversees Collins’ homeschool work, and he lives with them part of the time. He also returns home to stay with his grandmother part of the time. Her name is Minnie Collins, but her grandkids call her Honey Gram.
She’s Collins’ biggest fan, and always has been. His mother and father aren’t prominent in his life, but Honey Gram is always there.
“All that stuff she was telling me for years, now I’m seeing she was right,” Collins said. “It’s made me cry a couple times when I think about all the things she’s always been saying to me, seeing them come true.
“If it wasn’t for my grandmother’s prayers, and coming to pick me up on Sundays to take me to church, I’d be in jail now. Or dead.”
Those thoughts inspire Collins in the gym, and keep him straight when he’s away from the court.
He still runs into guys he used to hang with — guys who were into partying, or drugs, or worse — but now he knows he has too much at stake if he ends up in a bad situation.
“Back then, I was the one saying ‘Let’s go. Now I’ll be like, ‘I gotta go home.’”
And Honey Gram couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve always tried to guide him in the right direction,” she said. “I’m very proud of him. The older he gets, the more he seems to understand what I’ve been trying to tell him. I just keep praying for him, that he’ll stay in church, and stay focused on his academics, and if he’ll do that when he gets to college, basketball will fall into place.”
Over the last 2 1/2 years, listening to his grandma and his coach has taken Collins from a dead-end road to a world beaming with opportunity.
“There’s a sense of pride in seeing him go from where he was headed to where he is now,” Talbott said. “The frustrations, the disappointments, all that stuff has been worth it.
“When he was a sophomore, I told him to trust me, that getting your life in order will make it all work right. And it has.”