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Prep Star Tries to Shed His Past

Basketball: In declaring for NBA draft, 6-foot-10 DeAngelo Collins of Inglewood High possesses guard's skills--and a litany of transgressions.

May 02, 2002|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The NBA has picked up another potential draft pick, this one a troubled high school player who may not have had another attractive option.

DeAngelo Collins, a controversial 6-foot-10 post player at Inglewood High with a guard's quickness and shooting range, declared his availability for the June draft and announced he had hired an agent Wednesday during a news conference at the school.

Collins is projected to go late in the first round of the draft, but the team that takes him will be taking a chance not only that the McDonald's All-American can make the jump as a 19-year-old, but also that he can be a good citizen.

A little more than three years ago, as a freshman at Tustin High, Collins inflicted permanent head injuries and a fractured nose that required surgery when he beat up a teammate. Collins pleaded guilty to felony assault and served six months in juvenile hall. He was also assessed a civil fine of $35,000, a sum that remains uncollected.

At age 13, he assaulted a woman with a deadly weapon in his Stockton hometown and served 60 days in a juvenile detention center, court records show.

At 15, following an altercation with a group of boys, Collins moved to Southern California. Shuffling between guardians for a span of more than two years, he moved between several homes in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.

While attending Tustin, Collins committed 27 documented transgressions in a seven-month span, earning a series of detentions and suspensions. One of his caretakers, youth basketball coach Bob Gottlieb, said Collins exhibited a "vicious" temper, prompting his expulsion from the house.

Shortly after assaulting his Tustin teammate, Collins dropped out of school and moved in with an aunt in Inglewood. His mother, Loretta Marie Taylor, a truck driver and single parent, also relocated there from Northern California.

Collins enrolled at Inglewood High, where those close to him say he has reinvented himself over the last three years while playing basketball in the shadow of the Great Western Forum.

"He's made a miraculous change to the person he is today," Inglewood Coach Patrick Roy said.

Said Taylor: "He's responsible, he's caring. You had to know him to see the changes today. He's come a long way."

Not everyone is convinced. Paul Pinto, the assault victim's father, said Collins remains a menace, no matter what his coaches and family say.

"DeAngelo Collins is a sick kid," Pinto said. "He has a violent temper and because he gets away with what he does, there's no accountability."

Roy said he demands accountability. He also acknowledges there have been slip-ups--he said his star player has missed classes and occasionally exhibits a surly attitude.

But that, he said, is the extent of it.

"In three years, I've never had a major problem out of him," Roy said. "I think the worst thing I had to counsel him on was being late to class. Fights and anything like that--he's never exemplified any of that behavior with me."

Those close to Collins say the biggest influence in his turnaround has been Roy, who has a reputation as an even-handed but firm leader of a program he has been associated with since playing guard there in the early 1980s.

"I think Pat Roy has been a stabilizing figure for him as a coach and a father figure," said Dinos Trigonis, a travel ball coach who has known Collins since he moved to Southern California in 1997.

Collins said Roy kept on him every day, telling him to "go to class. Make sure you do this. Go to the library."

Roy said Collins' turnaround lost some momentum when he left school during his sophomore year to serve his assault sentence.

"When he came back," Roy said, "it was almost like starting over again because he was bitter."

Now, though, Roy said Collins' transformation is most visible on the court.

"As a 10th grader he would just go for himself. As a senior, he would try to get his teammates going even if he was having a bad game. That's the dramatic change I've seen in him over the years."

Taylor also credited Inglewood teachers and administrators.

"They disciplined him from the start," she said. "[It's as if they said], 'When you attend this school, it's going to be this way, and this way only. You're here to learn, we're here to teach.

"'If you're not here to learn, there's the door.'"

Collins' best performance on the court came last season when he averaged 23 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. But he missed 12 games after suffering a knee injury midway through the season.

Nonetheless, Roy said Collins is the second-best player he has coached in 10 years at Inglewood, behind Paul Pierce, the Boston Celtics' all-star guard.

By retaining an agent, Collins decided not to take advantage of the NCAA's recent ruling that allows undrafted players--and drafted players who later decide they don't want to enter the NBA--to maintain college eligibility.

"To go to the NBA, you have to have confidence," Collins said. "Not having an agent wouldn't show confidence."

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