ASU men's basketball guard Frankie Collins set to go head-to-head with old training partner
Frankie Collins and Tyger Campbell were just youngsters when their paths crossed for the first time, their passion for basketball being the common thread. The two were in Las Vegas and Collins' uncle Monte Buckley trained the two in their earliest years in the sport. They even lived together for several months.
A decade or so later their passion remains. Now the star for their respective college teams — Campbell a red-shirt senior at UCLA and Collins a sophomore at Arizona State. Their paths will cross again on Thursday when the Sun Devils (20-9, 11-7) visit Pauley Pavilion for a 7 p.m. Pac-12 showdown against No. 4 UCLA (25-4, 16-2), which has already secured the regular season conference title and is looking to secure a No. 1 seed for the postseason.
ASU is on the bubble, a last team in or a first team out, depending on whose projection you value most. But much will be on the line which makes the battle even more intriguing.
"I love playing against him," Collins said before the Sun Devils took to the practice floor Wednesday morning at Weatherup Center. "It's always a lot of fun. I see how far he has come and it's like a proud moment. And they have a great team so we know it will be a big test for us."
Collins says the two have remained in touch over the years, even meeting up over the summer when he was in Southern California to visit another friend Will McClendon, a red-shirt freshman for the Bruins who hails from Las Vegas. Collins says he and Campbell haven't been in touch quite as frequently lately with both focused on their performance for their respective teams.
Each has been a pivotal part of his team's success. Campbell, who is a couple of years older, is averaging 12.5 points and 4.7 assists and is coming off a season in which he was a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, which goes annually to the nation's top point guard.
Collins is averaging 10.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists and embracing his role as a "pass-first" point guard. He is in his first season in Tempe, having transferred from the University of Michigan last summer.
Campbell also appreciates the bond he has built with his Sun Devil counterpart.
"His uncle kind of trained me in my early elementary, a little bit into middle school," Campbell said. "So growing up, me and Frankie were pretty close, he's like a little brother to me so it's crazy just to, at this stage, be able to play against him, seeing what he's developed and turned into as a player cause I remember when he was just a little guy who was just messing around in the gym."
Campbell is one of the veterans in the Pac-12, having started all 125 games the Bruins have played in the last four years. He arrived in 2018 but had that season wiped out with a torn ACL that summer.
Meanwhile, Collins is just getting his feet wet in the conference, although he is no stranger to Tempe. He played his junior year of high school basketball at Compass Prep and attended several ASU games in that year. He then returned to Coronado High School in Henderson, Nevada to round out his high school career. He was looking for exposure that a school like Compass Prep could provide.
"I wanted to play more of a national schedule. I wanted to play against the top guys in the country. I felt like if I went there it would really help me out and expose me to a higher level of competition and it did that," he said. "Then COVID hit and I went back home."
ASU was high on his list before he actually chose Michigan. As a true freshman there, Collins played in 31 games, with one start, which came in the NCAA Round of 64 after starter DeVante Jones couldn't play due to injury. Collins scored 14 points (6-for-7 from the field) and grabbed six rebounds in 31 minutes in a game in which the Wolverines defeated Colorado State 75-63.
When Collins decided to leave Michigan, ASU was a natural fit since head coach Bobby Hurley had already recruited him. Collins says he heard from ASU associate head coach Jermaine Kimbrough just "minutes" after his name appeared in the transfer portal with the Sun Devils looking for a replacement for another guard Jay Heath, who entered the portal and ended up at Georgetown, close to his home.
"My whole thing in coming here was to try and help turn the program back around, help build a new and improved foundation," Collins said. "Me and the guys have done that. But we have more work to do. We're not done yet."
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Hurley says Collins is really the first point guard he has had that has truly embraced the "pass first" philosophy. The eighth-year head coach knew that was the perfect complement for his team which already had a good share of shooters, most notably Desmond Cambridge Jr., and D.J. Horne.
"He's really the main one that is that way. Been talking about him that way since I was able to watch him through the summer. I knew the guys were going to enjoy playing with him, naturally he is looking to pass. Certain guys aren't looking to pass, but he is. That's one of his main priorities," Hurley said.
Collins says the best way to stand out is to do things others don't necessarily want to do. Those things include playing defense and serving as a catalyst of the offense.
"It comes from realizing you have to separate yourself from other people. What makes me different. I can put the ball in the hoop. I can score when I want to or when I feel it's needed," he said. "But passing, getting everyone involved, making everyone better is what separates me. So I just think seeing everybody smiling and happy because when they score, it gives joy to me." I like to let the game come to me."
Collins picks and chooses his spots. He had a season-best of 23 points against Texas Southern and he had 21 points against Tarleton State in a game in which he took 24 shots. But he has had two games in which he had just three field goal attempts, one of those coming in ASU's last contest against UCLA.
He has 14 games in which he has registered five or more assists, with a season-high 11 coming in a win over the University of San Diego.
"He's a guy that doesn't come in with a preconceived idea of what he is going to do," Hurley said. "He just takes what the game delivers for him so if there are opportunities to score he'll take it.
Campbell's college career is likely soon coming to an end. Although he has a year of eligibility remaining, he is expected to declare for the NBA draft. But Collins's best years appear ahead of him. He is only a sophomore.
"It's crazy to see how good he is now," Campbell said.
Arizona State (20-9, 11-7) at No. 4 UCLA (25-4, 16-2)
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About Arizona State: ASU is coming off a dramatic 89-88 win over rival Arizona in which the difference was a shot at the buzzer from more than half-court by Desmond Cambridge Jr. that bolstered its postseason hopes. The Sun Devils have won four of their last five after a stretch in which they lost five of six. The starting five consists of Desmond Cambridge Jr. (14.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg), brother Devan Cambridge (10.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg), PG Frankie Collins (10.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.5 PG), G D.J. Horne (11.8 ppg) and forward Warren Washington (9.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg). Freshman G Austin Nunez is questionable (concussion).
About UCLA: UCLA's conference losses came to Arizona (58-52) and USC (77-64). The Bruins are 15-0 at Pauley Pavilion on the season. UCLA's last loss at home came to Oregon 84-81 (OT) on Jan. 13, 2022. They have won 24 straight in their own venue. Its usual starting quintet consists of senior G-F Jaime Jaquez Jr. (17 ppg, 8 rpg), junior G Jaylen Clark (13 ppg, 6.1 rpg), senior PG Tyger Campbell (12.5 ppg), freshman G Amari Bailey (10.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and freshman F-C Adem Bona (8 ppg, 5.1 rpg). David Singleton (9.2 ppg) gets considerable playing time too and is a particularly deadly 3-point shooter.
Last time they met: UCLA prevailed 74-62 on Jan. 19 at Desert Financial Arena. The game was really closer than that though as UCLA only led 63-60 with 5:04 left. There were eight ties and 14 lead changes. Desmond Cambridge Jr. scored 15 points and D.J. Horne 14 for ASU. Tyger Campbell and David Singleton combined for 43 for UCLA, going a combined 14-for-21 from the field.
What's at stake: UCLA has already secured the regular season title, its first in a decade. But the Bruins are fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA postseason. ASU is a bubble team and needs a win in this one or against USC to further its case. The Sun Devils are also fighting for a first-round bye in next week's Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas Byes go to the top four teams and ASU currently sits fourth, with USC third.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona State men's basketball guard to face an old friend at UCLA